Sam Harris in full: court intellectual, mystic, and supporter of the Iraq war

Israel/Palestine
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Sam Harris
Sam Harris

I wrote about Sam Harris a short while ago. In my article, I covered a number of themes that he’s discussed, primarily in The End of Faith, as well as in subsequent pieces. Among the subjects I reviewed were his support for Israel’s saturation bombing of Gaza and Lebanon, the Afghanistan war, the “humanitarian purpose” of the Iraq war, American-backed Arab despots, racial profiling, pre-emptive nuclear warfare, judicial torture, and life after death in the guise of reincarnation. In a response, Sam Harris has claimed that I misrepresent him. He does not say what part of my article, which quotes him at extreme length, is inaccurate.

It bears noting that it’s not the first time that Harris has claimed his opinions have been doctored. I share this intellectual sin with as motley a crew of people as Robert Wright, Chris Hedges, PZ Myers, John Gorenfield, and the editor of Free Enquiry Tom Flynn, all of whom Harris says have failed to depict him accurately.

Unfortunately, in my case, he is correct. I must confess that I did not portray the full spectrum of his views with the justice that they warrant.

I have left out much pertinent information from my article that I think would shed better light on what Harris believes. My excuse is that I ran out of space for which I apologise to readers and Harris alike, who deserve better from me. I will make amends in this article. It is misleading to say, for instance, that Harris advocates racial profiling, and let the matter rest there. The full story is richer than I have let on.

The truth is that he also thinks it is scientifically valid to hold that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites, and that espousing this view is not a mark of racism. The context of his remarks was the appointment of Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health, against which Harris stood because of Collins’ belief in God. Harris argued that it should be a disqualification for a scientist of a religious cast of mind to be awarded such an eminent post and maintained that he should be treated in the same way as James Watson was when, in his opinion, he was unjustly forced out from his academic chair for making racist comments about the arrested intelligence of blacks with which his scientific colleagues did not want to be associated, comments that although Harris says are unpleasant, nevertheless have a “scientific basis” in truth which must not be denounced:
 

It is worth recalling in this context that it is, in fact, possible for a brilliant scientist to destroy his career by saying something stupid. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, a Nobel laureate, and the original head of the Human Genome Project, recently accomplished this feat by asserting in an interview that people of African descent appear to be innately less intelligent than white Europeans. A few sentences, spoken off the cuff, resulted in academic defenestration: lecture invitations were revoked, award ceremonies cancelled, and Watson was forced to immediately resign his post as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Watson’s opinions on race are disturbing, but his underlying point was not, in principle, unscientific. There may very well be detectable differences in intelligence between races. Given the genetic consequences of a population living in isolation for tens of thousands of years it would, in fact, be very surprising if there were no differences between racial or ethnic groups waiting to be discovered. I say this not to defend Watson’s fascination with race, or to suggest that such race-focused research might be worth doing. I am merely observing that there is, at least, a possible scientific basis for his views. While Watson’s statement was obnoxious, one cannot say that his views are utterly irrational or that, by merely giving voice to them, he has repudiated the scientific worldview and declared himself immune to its further discoveries. Such a distinction would have to be reserved for Watson’s successor at the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins.

Observe the way he shifts the mass revulsion expressed by academics like the Federation of American Scientists for Watson’s comments about black intelligence to the uncontested truism, inserted by him alone with no bearing on the question, that it would be surprising if there were “no differences between racial or ethnic groups”. There is of course outward variation in physical appearance between geographically isolated human beings, just as there is much greater inward genetic diversity between people of the same ethnic group; no child of five, let alone professor Watson, has felt the need to express such a trite view; the point under consideration, and for which Harris speaks in favour as a truthful idea anchored in biology that must not be attacked as “irrational”, is that whites are cognitively superior to blacks. Intelligence, not traits such as pigment or eye colour, is the topic under review.

The objection to Watson’s view is not that it is merely a relic of Nazi ideology and thus offensive, as Harris portrays the reaction of the scientific community. It is that his idea is pseudoscience. The supporting data Harris claims to show “detectable differences in intelligence between races” is lifted straight from the discredited racist tract The Bell Curve which has been debunked extensively by geneticists, most notably Steven Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man.

It is not the first time that Harris has promoted pseudoscience. A like fate as Watson’s befell a character named Rupert Sheldrake for whose professional disgrace Harris feels aggrieved. Students of the paranormal will be familiar with the name. Sheldrake is a noted parapsychologist who makes a living writing books that claim to show the existence of psychic ability in pets and humans. Peer review science journals dismiss him as a crackpot. But not Harris. He cites the work of Sheldrake’s in The End of Faith as evidence that “There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science”.

The paranormal has not been ignored of course. It has been reviewed by competent scholars in the pages of Nature and shown conclusively to be erected upon acres of New Age superstition. It’s in the nature of conmen to plead persecution. Other practitioners of this subterranean magic endorsed by Harris include Dean Radin who, in books like The Concious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, swears by the truth of telepathy, mind reading, clairvoyance and the capacity to move physical objects with the naked power of one’s mind.

But the prize for the most spectacular romance with sorcery goes to Harris for asserting that the brain is not the generator of consciousness. It was ideas like this that led the brain scientist Raymond Tallis to liken his work to “Neurotrash”. Science can resolve this question by a rather simple experiment: Let a believer in this theory submit to have his brain surgically extracted from his skull and observe for how long he retains the faculty of perception.

It’s not uncommon for Harris to speak tenderly of crankery.

Another crucial piece of detail missing from my original article centres on the question of anti-Semitism. In his book, The End of Faith, Harris charges critics of Israel with being Jew haters. The slur is familiar to those who think Palestinians deserve human rights, but given that Harris draws his material on the subject from Alan Dershowitz’s The Case For Israel, proven to be a hoax by Norman Finkelstein, who doused the author’s reputation in gasoline and struck the fatal match, that is not too surprising.

What is surprising is that after slandering critics of Israel’s brutality against Arabs as anti-Semites, Harris proceeds, with no trace of irony, to blame the monumental suffering of the Holocaust on the Jewish people. First consider the anti-Semitic accusation, taken from his intellectual hero Paul Berman who led the chorus for invading Iraq in a book described by Harris as “a beautiful primer on totalitarianism”:

Berman observes, for instance, that much of the world now blames Israel for the suicidal derangement of the Palestinians. Rather than being an expression of mere anti-Semitism (though it is surely this as well), this view is the product of a quaint moral logic: people are just people, so the thinking goes, and they do not behave that badly unless they have some very good reasons. The excesses of Palestinian suicide bombers, therefore, must attest to the excesses of the Israeli occupation. Berman points out that this sort of thinking has led the Israelis to be frequently likened to the Nazis in the European press. Needless to say, the comparison is grotesque.

(The End of Faith, p. 135)

Decades of Israeli aggression and terror are fine by Harris, but calling the IDF names is just too much. No responsible critic of the occupation likens Israel’s crimes to the industrial horrors of the Third Reich’s, but after branding human rights activists as anti-Semitic, Harris steps beyond the standard AIPAC hymn sheet and in a surreal turn of logic that is redolent of neo-Nazi websites blames the Holocaust on Jews for not assimilating into German culture:

The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. Prior to the rise of the church, Jews became the objects of suspicion and occasional persecution for their refusal to assimilate, for the insularity and professed superiority of their religious culture – that is, for the content of their own unreasonable, sectarian beliefs. The dogma of a “chosen people,” while at least implicit in most faiths, achieved a stridence [sic] in Judaism that was unknown in the ancient world.

(The End of Faith, p. 93)

Can there be any doubt what howls of abuse would trail any critic of Zionism who even hinted at anything so revolting as the idea Jews brought Auschwitz upon themselves? But when you fly the Star of David high on your flagpole and pound your keyboard heroically against the Islamo-Nazi menace, you can expect your apologetics for anti-Semitism to go unremarked by the Anti Defamation League. Indeed, no less a figure in the Israel Lobby than Dershowitz will blurb your work enthusiastically.

But if he has many detractors, Harris does not want for friends. Richard Dawkins has come to his aid. This is understandable. Dawkins and Harris are personal friends. He’s promoted his work, blurbed his book and appears in public with him. That’s what friends are for. Dawkins does not attempt to deny that Harris is a national security hawk or that he is a New Age believer. There is too much damning evidence for plausible deniability. The matter he wishes to contest is the one he thinks, incorrectly, does most to discredit Harris: Torture. He claims that Harris does not really support it. And that he was only just floating moral hypotheticals without any practical application. If this is true, then I owe Harris a very sincere apology indeed.

As those conversant with Harris’s book will know however, he does not merely offer an academic what-if; he gives the names of particular individuals in US custody who he thinks merit torture. He specifically names Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and leaves open the possibility of Osama bin Laden. He does not merely advise we should torture KSM. He says that not to do so would be morally “perverse”:

Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking.

(The End of Faith, p. 198)

Notice the glaring absence from this impatient demand for torture of the much cited threat of a ticking time bomb set to explode imminently. The morality of the question aside, the practical application of it that Harris endorses has moved from the emotionally potent thought experiment of defusing a live suitcase bomb discovered at the eleventh hour to the far more vague and inconclusive “dismantling of Al Qaeda” which is not a formal organisation to be dismantled so much as a transnational ideology.

The waterboarding of KSM was not a last ditch attempt to avert imminent disaster. It was a months-long exercise in the abuse of a detainee who the Senate Intelligence Committee reports yielded better intelligence under standard interrogation techniques than he ever did when waterboarded 183 times.

Dawkins compares Harris’s misnamed thought experiment to Peter Singer’s provocative work on counter-intuitive moral reasoning on everything from animal rights to world poverty. It’s hard to think of a more disfiguring libel. Peter Singer is a deeply ethical and weighty thinker. Unlike Harris, he stood against the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, the war crimes of Israel and the abridgement of civil liberties as completely without justification. They could not be more different in political outlook.

It’s not just moral values on which they diverge. It is intellectual honesty. When the controversial Muhammad cartoons protests flared up in 2006, during which the tabloid press was in the passionate throes of its periodic Muslim witch hunts about how dimly these foreigners regard the concept of free speech to which Westerners are religiously devoted, a blood sport much relished by Harris at the time, Peter Singer wrote a thoughtful article unmasking the dishonesty of a Europe that had just imprisoned David Irving for interrogating, however indecently, the historical truth of the Holocaust. In Canada his comrade Ernst Zundel was jailed for the same crime of dissenting from the state approved canon of history.

In the country of the First Amendment, law abiding young American Muslims like Tarek Mehanna have recently been locked up, as Glenn Greenwald has remarked, for nothing more than asserting the right of Arabs to oppose Western aggression, an opinion that when voiced by white Iraq veterans who also oppose the war goes unpunished. Here we see the sinister emergence of a dual legal system that strips Muslims of their liberties and is condoned by Harris in his support for racial profiling and the National Defence Authorisation Act.

The war on free speech is most energetically waged in Europe, where it is a penal offence to espouse what is called Hate Speech, a concept that, though well intended, amounts to policing what people may say about race, gender, sexuality, disability, the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.

Indeed, an ideological mentor  Sam Harris quoted frequently to great applause in The End of Faith, Bernard Lewis, is a confessed genocide denier made to pay damages by a French court for denying the Armenian genocide. It is worth reflecting how long a writer would survive who celebrated the work of Holocaust deniers. To downplay the suffering of any people is of course a moral deformity, but it’s vital that apologists for mass murder and those who promote their work should be seen for what kind of people they are without being molested by the state.

Peter Singer understood that rolling back these authoritarian laws that muzzle writers is far more pressing to the health of freedom and a much tougher proposition demanding sustained activism and lobbying than dehumanising Muslims, the great bulk of whom had nothing to do with protesting cartoons.

In just this spirit of defending free speech from its enemies, British scientists and journalists have set in motion a campaign to overturn punitive English laws governing libel suits tipped in the favour of rich plaintiffs that inhibit academics from speaking honestly about their findings on everything from Western corporations that dump toxic waste on poor countries to rogue bankers to industries that merchandise bogus alternative medicine. Do not go searching for Harris among these free speech activists on either side of the Atlantic. The enemies of freedom here are powerful white millionaires with an army of lawyers. Safer to malign racial minorities.

On a kindred point that was not raised by Dawkins but is germane, it must be borne in mind that Singer himself does think torture is justifiable theoretically on a utilitarian calculus in remote cases that have not materialised in the War on Terror, but has also opposed America’s secret torture sites under Bush as not meeting those stringent criteria and which are therefore criminal. It is he, and not Harris, who is truly being just academic.

In fairness to Harris, he has never denied that he defended Bush’s torture regime at the height of its operation. This revisionism has been taken up lately by his friends. Vitally, Singer has said the utilitarian case for torture applies with equal force to the innocent children of bomb suspects if that is what is demanded to crack battle hardened terrorists trained to resist torture. Harris has never been honest enough to endorse this extension of the argument precisely because he is all too aware of the tsunami of disgust that would soak him so he sticks to the politically safer ground of advocating the torture of unsympathetic bearded men whose dark skin and foreign names render their human rights forfeit.

Nor does he suggest, in a step that really would have been a challenge to the limits of the establishment’s moral norms, the right of Muslims to abduct Western policymakers and torture them to extract intelligence about invasion plans for the Middle East.

This is not an example of an iconoclast boldly going where few dare to tread. It is the timid performance of a court intellectual who knows where the red lines are and how to most palatably advance the case for Western military aggression.

Much can be divined from a man by the company he keeps, and it is noteworthy that the person whose authority Harris cites to refortify his support for Bush’s torture programme is the “Liberal Senator Charles Schumer”. The operative word here is liberal. The image he seeks to plant in one’s mind is a tireless advocate for human rights. But a glance at his senatorial record tells a more revealing story. Schumer was an enthusiast for invading Iraq, is a keen backer of the Patriot Act, is a proud standing member of AIPAC, and has said of Israel’s siege on Gaza that it must “strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go”.

These are the people with whom Harris identifies politically – hawkish Zionists in the mold of Senator Schumer, Dershowitz, Berman and Lewis. They are what he considers to be his natural ideological allies. Those who doubt their progressive credentials, like Edward Said, come in for severe attack in his work.

Like so many prowar commentators, Harris has attempted to deny that he backed the Iraq invasion when events took a turn for the worse, preferring the more agnostic position “I have never known what to think about this war”, but this denial must not be taken at face value. The only occasions in which he sees fit to discuss the war in his book is for the purpose of defending George Bush from his antiwar critics like Chomsky, or to sing the praises of those who cheered the invasion like Berman, Lewis and Fareed Zakaria, or to support interventionism generically in the Middle East himself though with the added twist of imposing not democracy, for which he thinks Muslims are unfit, but a benign pro-American dictator, or to hobgoblinise Iraqis for not receiving American troops as liberators.

There is not a single word of criticism against the Iraq war in print or on his blog, except to say, more recently, that it was poorly strategised and launched before the revenge attacks on Afghanistan could be wrapped up.

Typical of his views about the war are statements like “it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right” and “Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West.” This belief in the profound moral clarity of George Bush to prosecute the war against the evildoers might dawn sooner, laments Harris, if Bush was not a Christian evangelical himself.

To be sure, not all dissent from the war is treason, by the lights of Harris. Dissidents may legitimately probe the “handling” of the invasion, and the competence of Bush’s management of the occupation, but to oppose the military expedition on moral grounds is sorry capitulation to our enemies: “Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration – especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq – liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.”

His work is a blunt summons for the projection of military “force” to pursue the US national interest “continually”:  

If oil were to become worthless, the dysfunction of the most prominent Muslim societies would suddenly grow as conspicuous as the sun. Muslims might then come to see the wisdom of moderating their thinking on a wide variety of subjects. Otherwise, we will be obliged to protect our interests in the world with force – continually. In this case, it seems all but certain that our newspapers will begin to read more and more like the book of Revelation.

(The End of Faith, p. 152)

Doubters of his martial counsel are invited by Harris to embrace the wisdom of the hawkish Thomas Friedman’s optimistic report of the war effort which depicts Iraqis who resist American occupation as driven by nothing but religious zealotry and to celebrate the killing of the Saddam family as “what guns are for”. These are not the sentiments of a military neutral.

On a point of nomenclature, I have said in my last article that Harris is a spiritualist and a paranormalist who believes in the truth claims of psychics, reincarnation, meditation and in the power of consciousness to arise without a physical brain which he says plays no part in causing human awareness. Since these ideas are derided by science as the high fooleries of the occult, some have come to wonder how a person antipathetic to monotheism can embrace such kookdom. It has been drawn to my attention that the answer lies in the little observed fact that Harris converted sometime ago to polytheistic eastern religions on his travels to the subcontinent saying that “I was a dogmatic Buddhist and a dogmatic Hindu“.

There is no vice in having once been religious, for we all of us inherit our mythologies from our parents, but Harris did not inherit his Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. He was bred in a secular home, granted a secular education and lived in a secular state. Instead he chose to abandon his secular upbringing and voluntarily convert to a foreign religious system.

He claims to have shed his former dogmatism, but telling by the loving chapter on mysticism in The End of Faith, it is clear that he sets much stock by some articles of those creeds. It also clarifies why he studiously will not say, as any materialist should have no problem affirming, that there is no afterlife. In numerous occasions when the subject has arisen either in his book or when he’s been asked if he believes that consciousness lives on beyond the death of the brain in interviews like this Salon appearance , he has chosen to either declare his belief in reincarnation or, if the audience is a sceptical lot, preferred the evasive formulation of “I just don’t know” because “If we were living in a universe where consciousness survived death, or transcended the brain so that single neurons were conscious – or subatomic particles had an interior (subjective) dimension –  we would not expect to see it by our present techniques of neuro-imaging or cellular neuroscience.” 

 
When he’s reminded by Salon that, in spite of his claim to be driven by data, that on the contrary “Most evolutionary biologists would say consciousness is rooted in the brain. It will not survive death.” He responds “I just don’t know”. 
There was a crystallising display of his Buddhist convictions some years ago at the Salk Institute. He was asked point blank by the physicist Lawrence Krauss if he thinks reincarnation is true and Harris shrugged “Who knows?” Alluding to the case studies of past-life regressions by Ian Stevenson cited in The End of Faith, he explained “There are these spooky stories.” When the assembled congregation of scientists erupted in astonished laughter at his religious credulity, he grew visibly nervous and, keen to skate past the embarrassing moment, shot back with “Okay, you are on firm ground being sceptical about reincarnation … I have published a few spooky things about telepathy and reincarnation which amount to not an endorsement of these beliefs, but just, you know, I hear there is all this data and someone like Dean Radin writes a book about it, and Brian Josephson, a Nobel Laureate in physics, blurbs it. I don’t have the time to do the meta-analyses and statistical expertise. So, I’m awaiting the evidence. Listen (with rising chagrin) I don’t want to talk about reincarnation. It may be.”
The takeaway from this seems to be that since these fringe ideas are embraced by a Nobel Laureate, namely Brian Josephson, that Harris is justified in believing them too. It would suffice to point out that Laureates are no strangers to deranged opinions such as from biochemist Kary Mullis who believes in astrology and climate change denial or virologist Luc Montagnier who champions homeopathy; and it would be enough to assert that Josephson’s colleagues at Oxford have denounced his promotion of ESP saying “It is utter rubbish. Telepathy simply does not exist”; but there is a far more salient point to be made here than simply demonstrating the fallacy of appealing to a single academic for ideas completely rejected by the scientific mainstream. Josephson is no ordinary scientist: He is a convinced proponent of Intelligent Design to the great joy of creationist websites.
Other pet theories of his include homoeopathy and the belief that water has memory. In other words, a lone eccentric who was courted by Dean Radin precisely because of his track record of toying with voodoo science.  

These are the fanciful authorities on which Harris draws for his mystical adventures, a mind reader and a champion of Intelligent Design.

It must be kept in mind that more than a memory lapse is at play when Harris says that his sympathy for Buddhism does not spring from any “dogmatic affinity” with it borne of religious partiality. He’s stated elsewhere, both in print and in speeches, that he was a “dogmatic Buddhist” in his past who by his own account “believed in all manner of nonsense”. He was not just another fashionable sampler of Oriental theologies on the hippie trail. He was a personal bodyguard to the Dalai Lama about whom he speaks in as reverential a tone as a Christian rejoicing over Mother Teresa despite his many authoritarian edicts and the peerless theocratic barbarism of his clerical antecedents in Tibet whose rule was marked by torture, amputations and serfdom. A stark contrast to the sanitised picture Harris conjures of the superior morality of Buddhist monks to Muslims and Christians, a view that can be maintained only by ignorance of the role monks have played in oiling the machinery of war against Tamil Hindus, their desecration of Christian churches, and their support for the state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing of Burma’s persecuted Muslim minority. 

 
This biographical reinvention on the part of Harris is a conscious effort to deceive about the roots of his sympathies for Eastern mysticism.
 

The neuroscientist Patricia Churchland has said that “I think Sam Harris is a child when it comes to addressing morality”. His politics and science are scarcely more grown up.

About Theodore Sayeed

Theodore Sayeed is a contributor to Mondoweiss. He may be reached at: [email protected]

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109 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    September 4, 2012, 1:37 pm

    “This is not an example of an iconoclast boldly going where few dare to tread. It is the timid performance of a court intellectual who knows where the red lines are and how to most palatably advance the case for Western military aggression.”

    That about says it all.

  2. chauncey
    September 4, 2012, 3:06 pm

    “the person whose authority Harris cites to refortify his support for Bush’s torture programme is the “Liberal Senator Charles Schumer”. ”

    Schumer, a Shomer in senator’s clothing

  3. seanmcbride
    September 4, 2012, 3:28 pm

    Christopher Hitchens on Sam Harris: a “Jewish warrior against theocracy and bigotry of all stripes.”

    But, curiously, Harris doesn’t seem to have much to say about the catastrophic role of religious Zionism in contemporary politics — both Jewish and Christian. The neoconservative movement is largely dominated by Jewish religious Zionists like Elliott and Rachel Abrams, who are clamoring to instigate a biblical holy war between “the West” and Islam.

    To what degree might Harris’s Jewish father have influenced his cultural biases? Much of the time Harris’s fanatical rants against Islam are indistinguishable from those of Pamela Geller and David Horowitz. A strange character indeed. For someone who worships rationality, his mind seems to be unconsciously infused with a great deal of primitive irrationality.

    • hophmi
      September 4, 2012, 3:55 pm

      No evidence the Abrams are religious, no evidence that they want to instigate a “biblical holy war.”

      You can’t rely on stormfront for everything, Sean.

      • Annie Robbins
        September 4, 2012, 4:46 pm

        one doesn’t need to visit stormfront hops link to councilforthenationalinterest.org

        According to a research study conducted by the Center for American Progress entitled Fear, Inc., there are five key purveyors who manipulate Islamophobia to further the US’s support of Israel: Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, David Yerushalmi of the Society of Americans for National Existence, Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, Robert Spencer of both Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America and Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. American billionaire Sheldon Gary Adelson, terrorism “expert” Evan Kohlmann, journalist Jennifer Rubin, and Emergency Committee for Israel’s founding member, Rachel Abrams additionally contribute to this network.

        certainly mistaking a secular person for a religious one is a tad beside the point. if someone is channeling religious extremism and using it for their political aims then they are instigating a religious war. no different than if i was attacking judaism.

      • hophmi
        September 4, 2012, 4:55 pm

        I missed the part where it said the Abrams are religious Jews trying to start a holy war. I don’t see that here.

        If you can’t see the obvious antisemitism inherent in statements like this:

        “To what degree might Harris’s Jewish father have influenced his cultural biases”

        then I feel sorry for you.

      • ColinWright
        September 4, 2012, 5:50 pm

        hophmi says: “If you can’t see the obvious antisemitism inherent in statements like this:

        “To what degree might Harris’s Jewish father have influenced his cultural biases”

        then I feel sorry for you…”

        Once you’re through feeling sorry for whomever you’re addressing, can you explain how it’s ‘obvious anti-semitism’ to speculate that the identity of the father might have affected the attitudes of the child?

      • traintosiberia
        September 8, 2012, 8:05 am

        Didn’t Abrams say that the Jewish people in the West need to keep themselves separate from the gentiles, not to intermarry? Was it based on some kind of fear of disease or attachment to religion?

        “In his book Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, Abrams takes care to insist that his positions imply no “disloyalty” to the United States, but at the same times insists that Jews must be loyal to Israel because they “are in a permanent covenant with God and with the land of Israel and its people. Their commitment will not weaken if the Israeli government pursues unpopular policies.” Elliott Abrams, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America (Free Press, 1997).

        Some start religious wars to get convert. Not Abrams.
        Some start religious wars to add lands based on religion .Some start wars to expel as many as possible Some instigate wars to distract attention from land grabbing and expulsion. Abrams have been openly supporting this for a long time.Abrams also have been keeping an eye on Syria and Iran after he with his inner – group-workings forced the takedown of the opponent to Iraq war.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 4, 2012, 5:00 pm

        Can it, hopper. We saw your opinion of evidence last week with your nonsense about the James Miller situation.

      • seanmcbride
        September 4, 2012, 5:09 pm

        hophmi,

        Have you taken the trouble to read Abrams’ “Faith or Fear,” and examined the passages on intermarriage in particular? Abrams is both a conservative religionist and a militant Zionist. And the entire neoconservative program is based on pitting the “Judeo-Christian” world against Muslims worldwide — an agenda that is in perfect alignment with Sam Harris’s Islamophobia.

        But we know by now that you don’t read books by neoconservatives or by any other authors who are thought leaders on Mideast politics.

        Some interesting remarks on Elliott Abrams by Philip Weiss in the New York Observer:

        link to observer.com

        BEGIN QUOTE
        In fact, Mr. Abrams says, Judaism is a not “entirely voluntary” faith. Christians define religion as a belief, but for a Jew religion is a matter of community. A Jew is born into a “covenantal community with obligations to God.” That covenant requires him to sacrifice individual autonomy in order to perpetuate the group. A Jew who chooses to break that covenant deserves scorn.

        Indeed, in calling for “wrenching changes in behavior” to end intermarriage, Mr. Abrams would seem to mean “scolding, rejection and exclusion” of Jews who marry out. He even seems to praise the idea of sitting shiva for a Jew who marries a non-Jew, in the belief that he or she is dead to the community.

        As Mr. Abrams concedes, his values are at odds with the American culture of free choice.

        “The free individual choice of which [Enlightenment] thinkers wrote, and which was sanctified in the U.S. Constitution, was absolutely contrary to the Jewish idea of covenant and commandment. Jewish law was about the collective, inherited obligation to God of an entire people. Could anything have been further from the modern notion that each individual must freely choose his faith? And could anything have been more subversive of the idea that Jews were by birth bound to 613 commandments than a philosophy suggesting that men were free at birth from any religious obligations whatsoever?”

        A lot of this rhetoric has a segregationist ring to it. “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart-except in Israel- from the rest of the population.”
        END QUOTE

      • hophmi
        September 4, 2012, 5:34 pm

        “Have you taken the trouble to read Abrams’ “Faith or Fear,” and examined the passages on intermarriage in particular?”

        No, but I can guess. He’s against intermarriage and therefore he’s no better than a KKK member, right?

        “And the entire neoconservative program is based on pitting the “Judeo-Christian” world against Muslims worldwide”

        It is not. Give me a break. I’m no neocon, but that is nonsense. Neocons supported the intervention in the former Yugoslavia to save Albanian Muslims (and Bosnian Muslims before that) from slaughter. They are not in favor of a worldwide war against all Muslims.

        Phil Weiss’s analysis of Eliott Abrams is meaningless to me given Phil’s self-interest as an intermarried Jew and his record of distorting things like this.

      • seanmcbride
        September 5, 2012, 10:10 am

        hophmi,

        My point was not that Elliott Abrams opposes intermarriage but that he uses religious fundamentalist language to justify his opposition to intermarriage. He is a religious fundamentalist (possibly an Orthodox Jew), a militant Zionist and a religious Zionist (or supporter of religious Zionists) — most of the neoconservatives fit this profile.

        You said: “No evidence the Abrams are religious”

        I just provided the evidence that Elliott Abrams is in fact religious.

        And neoconservatives do in fact organize their pro-Israel militancy largely around Islamophobia — hatred of Islam and Muslims. Anyone who has read the books of neocons like Norman Podhoretz, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Daniel Pipes and Dore Gold knows that this is the case.

        But you, hophmi, do not traffic in books and scholarly articles, which is decidedly “un-Jewish.” You don’t know the lay of the land. And as a result you make many foolish statements on every subject you address.

        You should use Hostage and Shmuel as role models — they know what they are up to. They value literacy and scholarship, truth-seeking and getting one’s facts in order before opening one’s mouth.

        Do you agree with Abrams on this point?

        “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart — except in Israel — from the rest of the population.”

      • Hostage
        September 6, 2012, 4:52 pm

        No, but I can guess. He’s against intermarriage and therefore he’s no better than a KKK member, right? . . . Phil Weiss’s analysis of Eliott Abrams is meaningless to me given Phil’s self-interest as an intermarried Jew and his record of distorting things like this.

        Well Duh! The ADL explains that the KKK claim that they are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites. So they oppose intermarriage on the bases of the very same passages of the Torah that form the bases of Abrams superstitious and polemical diatribes about the disaster of intermarriage between Jews and other modern-day Americans.

        I think all of these competing claims of Abrahamic descent are thinly disguised, pretentious, racist bullshit. Orthodox Jewish bigotry isn’t more noble simply because it’s been around a longer amount of time.

      • seanmcbride
        September 6, 2012, 5:08 pm

        Hostage wrote:

        “I think all of these competing claims of Abrahamic descent are thinly disguised, pretentious, racist bullshit.”

        Wonderfully said!

      • traintosiberia
        September 8, 2012, 8:21 am

        The “Save muslim” flag was used by the West to fragment Slav state for their own narrow interest and some muslim fell for it. Kosovo has become a terrorist state doing western bids. For 60 year that Slav states held the peace and maintained prosperity but fractured under pressure of open society and democracy that appeared suddenly to them in 1988.
        Muslim had been supported in Afghanistan and Checehnya not to elevate the condition of muslim but to weaken Russia.

        The country that opposed the intervention of West in Balkan was Israel and the Israeli reason was the possible creation of a muslim majority state.( both Sharon and Nathayoo openly campaigned against any muslim state )To hide its image, it took some refugees.

      • traintosiberia
        September 8, 2012, 8:35 am

        Empires can never be and has never been by maintained religion- driven foreign or domestic policies anywhere in the world. Religion is powerful force to rally the crowd but in any master plan or conspiracy there are players with separate intention, different ability, and varying devotion to the causes.
        US does not base its policy only on one parameter .The only principle that guides its behavior is the self-interest.y.Unfortunately that doctrine take a beatings and thrown into waste basket when Israel sneak upon into the picture.

      • seanmcbride
        September 4, 2012, 7:03 pm

        hophmi,

        Regarding “biblical holy wars,” try Googling [elliott abrams cufi] to get a handle on Abrams’ ties to and support for Christian Armageddonists like John Hagee.

        Neocon Jennifer Rubin mentions the issue here:

        “Onward, Christian Zionists The fastest growing Israel support group in America.”

        link to nyscufinthi.wordpress.com

        BEGIN QUOTE
        Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Israel policy in the Bush administration, appreciates that support. “American Jews ought to notice that there are actually more evangelicals in this country than Jews by about 20 or 30 to 1,” he says. “With the Jewish population shrinking as a percentage of the American people, Christians are an increasingly critical base of support for Israel-and groups like CUFI are begging us to accept their help. We should accept it with gratitude and enthusiasm.”
        END QUOTE

        Elliott Abrams is providing aid, support and encouragement to Islamophobic Christian Zionist extremists who are eager to provoke Armageddon.

    • marc b.
      September 4, 2012, 4:51 pm

      Christopher Hitchens on Sam Harris: a “Jewish warrior against theocracy and bigotry of all stripes.”

      hitchens is dead, so we can’t kick him around anymore (actually it might be a bit easier to kick him around since he’s decomposed a bit), but does harris actually consider himself ‘jewish’? i don’t know much about him beyond what i’ve read on this site (i’ll leave theodore to do the heavy lifting), but what does ‘jewish’ mean to harris, who appears from his websites to be more parts crass capitalist, goofy spiritualist and anecdotalist than ‘jewish’ intellectual warrior. (another metaphorical ‘warrior’ safely ensconced in happy valley. from his ‘project reason’ site; “Promote critical thinking and win in the annual Project Reason Video Contest”. g_d, but i needed a bit of a laugh on this rainy day.) that idiotic, contradictory, waffling, nominal non-defense of watson is another polished turd issuing from the bowels of the meritocracy. Ugh.

    • Chu
      September 4, 2012, 4:52 pm

      the problem with Hophmi’s comment is that he sees Jewish Zionism as a vanguard movement, and many of us see it as a international cult.

      • hophmi
        September 4, 2012, 5:37 pm

        “the problem with Hophmi’s comment is that he sees Jewish Zionism as a vanguard movement, and many of us see it as a international cult.”

        A vanguard movement?

        I see it as the Jewish movement for self-determination. The difference between you and me is that I believe Muslims and Jews can have countries of their own and you believe only Muslims are entitled to them.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 5, 2012, 8:20 am

        “I see it as the Jewish movement for self-determination. The difference between you and me is that I believe Muslims and Jews can have countries of their own and you believe only Muslims are entitled to them.”

        Yeah, hopper, and if the Jews have to ethnically cleanse a Muslim population who’d been there for over a thousand years to do it, what does that matter to you, right hopper? It’s not like they were Jews, they were just Muslims, unimportant unpeople to the likes of you, right?

      • eljay
        September 5, 2012, 9:14 am

        >> … I believe Muslims and Jews can have countries of their own and you believe only Muslims are entitled to them.

        A Zio-supremacist expresses support for the existence of a supremacist “Muslim State” in order to justify his desire for the existence of a supremacist “Jewish State”. Impressive!

        Actually, it’s pretty sad.

      • Dan Crowther
        September 5, 2012, 9:14 am

        Name one islamic state any muslim, from anywhere in the world, can move to and gain citizenship within the day simply because they are muslim. I support the self determination of Jews actually in palestine, but a state for world jewry in palestine is just absurd, and always has been. Fact.

      • Cliff
        September 8, 2012, 4:40 am

        Bullshit hophmi.

        There have been large Islamic empires and eras. There have been ZERO comparable Jewish empires and eras.

        The land of Israel/Palestine was predominantly Palestinian Arab, Bedouin, etc. and Christian/Muslim. Not Jewish.

        To make it more Jewish, Jews had to be brought INTO the territory.

        And to make it less Palestinian Arab, Bedouin, etc. – those groups were thrown off the good land and isolated into bantustans and surrounded by Jewish only settlements and roads and outposts and checkpoints.

        Zionism is a colonial movement. It is not a liberation movement because Jews are not being liberated. Jews are depriving others of their liberation and their rights and kicking others off of their homes that they and their ancestors have lived on for centuries if not thousands of years.

        And all for some backwards, emotional/religious ‘connection’ to the land and Holocaust guilt-tripping of the non-Jewish public (so they won’t fight back against Zionist cultural infrastructure).

        People like you specialize in BS – first by downplaying disgusting acts of Zionism like the recent AIPAC-Jerusalem-Democratic Party line change-up, which you predictably characterize as business as usual and second, by playing up aggression/opposition/etc. against Zionism as the epitome of evil.

        This isn’t about Muslims and Jews, it’s about a foreign element STEALING something that wasn’t theres and the bullshit logic that is the entirety of the Zionist movement that tries to tell non-members of the tribe that the world is flat.

        The only allies you have are anti-Arab racists, Islamophobes, Christian evangelical nutjobs, American nationalist gun-nuts who play way too many FPSers, and a whole other assortment of side-shows.

        In fact, I think a reliable maxim about the image of Israel in the American public is that it’s all flash. There is very little debate, information and real and SUSTAINED (most important) challenge to sniveling liars like yourself.

  4. lareineblanche
    September 4, 2012, 3:34 pm

    A thorough and well-deserved spanking indeed.
    And yes, Europe and Canada have no notion whatever of free speech. That is one thing in which Americans should take pride (if not much else at this moment).

    • ColinWright
      September 4, 2012, 5:54 pm

      larieneblanche says: “And yes, Europe and Canada have no notion whatever of free speech. That is one thing in which Americans should take pride (if not much else at this moment).”

      Well, we’re getting over it. No fear.

  5. American
    September 4, 2012, 4:01 pm

    Not worth the words wasted on him.

    But this….”The war on free speech is most energetically waged in Europe, where it is a penal offence to espouse what is called Hate Speech, a concept that, though well intended, amounts to policing what people may say about race, gender, sexuality, disability, the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.’……has contributed to the emerging white European anti others right wing.

    • NCINA
      September 4, 2012, 11:19 pm

      Here in Britain there are also old blasphemy laws which have not been applied in hundreds of years. Recently there has been an Incitement to Religious Hatred Law, largely seen to protect anti-Muslim hate, this law has generally used against perpetrators of anti-Muslim/Islam ‘hate’ disproportionately and unequally.
      link to news.bbc.co.uk
      link to guardian.co.uk
      link to oxfordscholarship.com
      More worrisome is the OIC effectively trying to criminalise criticism of Islam in the guise of religion in general. I’m not sure whether they have passed this non-binding resolution.
      link to online.wsj.com
      link to legal-project.org
      People don’t have the right not to be offended, any religion should be ‘free game’ as well as some of adherents of religious superstition. Obviously the reason for criminalising Holocaust Denial are due to very recent historic and to a lesser extent social reasons in particular countries.

  6. Woody Tanaka
    September 4, 2012, 4:19 pm

    I read the End of Faith and though I am no fan of Harris, I believe that some of your criticisms here are off base and, at times, way out of context. There are plentiful reasons to criticize Harris that no one needs to be doing this poor of an analysis.

    Your part about torture is exactly what I’m talking about. In the book he does not say that he supports torture; in fact, he believes it should remain illegal. Rather, he says that it is perverse that the US would be willing to do things that will cause deaths of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan but find torture out of bounds. Not the same thing and it actually is rather thought provoking to me about what that says about America.

    Indeed, at one point you accuse Harris in believing something a few sentences after you quote him saying that he does not endorse the belief.

    Further, you walk up to the line and pretend as if Harris is agreeing with Watson’s statement concerning intelligence and race. He’s not. Even in the quote you included, he’s clearly making a distinction between a statement that is objectionable, but something which might (N.B. “might”, not “is”) be supported scientifically, and Francis Collins’ unscientific beliefs about religion, which are not even held objectionable even though they are, in every respect, unscientific or anti-scientific. One needs not agree with Watson to understand the validity of the point. (Indeed, I understand the validity of the point Harris made and very much think that Watson is wrong, and I suspect Harris thinks likewise.*)

    *I suspect that if you had a direct quote whereby Harris agreed with Watson, you would have included it. That you didn’t suggests that it simply doesn’t exist.

    • Theodore Sayeed
      September 4, 2012, 5:59 pm

      On torture, Harris did not stand opposed to the Afghanistan or Iraq wars as you suggest. He backed them, and he defies those who tolerate the collateral damage of these military ventures to be less squeamish about it. That is the extent of his analogy between the two. He asserts that torture should be formally outlawed, but that interrogators ought to be instructed they will not face prosecution if they do torture a suspect. One such candidate he thinks is KSM, the torture of whom he advocates not on the ground of defusing a live bomb, but to dismantle AQ. Another he suggests is Bin Laden.

      On Watson, the The Federation of American Scientists dismiss racial differentials in IQ as every bit as anti-scientific as theology. Harris chose to array himself against the considered verdict of the academy and say not merely that a discredited pseudoscience might be sound after all, but that it would be surprising if there were not detectable differences among the races.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 4, 2012, 6:59 pm

        “On torture, Harris did not stand opposed to the Afghanistan or Iraq wars as you suggest.”

        I suggested no such thing.

        “He backed them, and he defies those who tolerate the collateral damage of these military ventures to be less squeamish about it. That is the extent of his analogy between the two.”

        Nonsense. I think that you would do well to reflect on his writings specifically in opposition to the criticisms like these here you pose. You may not agree with his position, but any fair reader can see that his position is not accurately reflected by your statements.

        “On Watson, the The Federation of American Scientists dismiss racial differentials in IQ as every bit as anti-scientific as theology”

        I’ve seen nothing by the FAS which compares this subject to theology. Please cite to the one you mean. (Frankly, the FAS statement on the subject was heavy on PR and light on science.)

        And even if the FAS did so, so what? The FAS is no arbiter of what is scientific and what is not. And if they were to declare that examination of whether there are any specific differences between groups with different ancestry was, prima facie, unscientific, that wouldn’t establish the point; they’d merely be wrong.

        “Harris chose to array himself against the considered verdict of the academy and say not merely that a discredited pseudoscience might be sound after all, but that it would be surprising if there were not detectable differences among the races.”

        There are a number of nonsensical statements that you’ve wrapped into one. Harris didn’t array himself against anything except for Francis Collins. Further, the question of whether there is a genetic component to intelligence is not pseudoscience; anyone who believes that there are no detectible differences between races is a patent moron. (It would require the denial of reality that says that if one were presented with photos of Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel and Emperor Akihito, that the viewer would have no clue where in the world each one came from… a facially idiotic idea.) The only issue is whether the complex genetics responsible for intelligence in humans are among those which vary by geography and ancestry.

        But the important point is this: whether you answer that question “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” “I don’t know” or something else (my personal belief is that it is possible in theory, but it is too small and is swamped by environmental factors to be determined), the fact is that the method of determining the answer, is qualitatively different than the answer to the question: “Was Jesus Christ the Messiah and part of the Triune Godhead?” The first is scientific, the second is not. That is the point Harris was making.

      • lareineblanche
        September 5, 2012, 4:57 am

        Those are fair points in my opinion. The fact is that such genetically-determined differences in “intelligence” (whatever that is) could more or less be determined in a scientific way, whereas the question of Jesus, etc. could not. It says nothing about whether such things are true, it’s an important distinction.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 5, 2012, 5:33 am

        “I think that you would do well to reflect on his writings specifically in opposition to the criticisms like these here you pose. You may not agree with his position, but any fair reader can see that his position is not accurately reflected by your statements.”

        I have furnished textual evidence of Harris advocating the torture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad whilst he remained in US custody and in possession of no ticking bomb. This concludes the discussion of whether Harris intended his support for torture to have practical application in Gitmo, or whether, like Singer, he was being just theoretical.

        “I’ve seen nothing by the FAS which compares this subject to theology. ”

        The Federation of American Scientists maintains that belief in white superiority is pseudoscience. And so it is with the claims of traditional religion.

        “And even if the FAS did so, so what? The FAS is no arbiter of what is scientific and what is not.”

        Scientific bodies cannot establish what is true. Only what is judged by a consensus of scholars to be credible. The FAS has determined that white racial supremacism has the same credibility as Intelligent Design and homoeopathy, both ideas championed by the authority cited by Harris to justify his support for psychic phenomena, namely Brian Josephson.

        “Harris didn’t array himself against anything except for Francis Collins. ”

        Harris says academics are wrong to call the belief that Africans are less intelligent irrational. The FAS considers the belief discredited anti-science. He stands in opposition to the scientific consensus.

        “Further, the question of whether there is a genetic component to intelligence is not pseudoscience;”

        Nobody has denied the role of genes in intelligence.

        “anyone who believes that there are no detectible differences between races is a patent moron.”

        The evidence for physiological differences between ethnic groups has not been questioned. What has been questioned is the doctrine that whites are mentally superior to blacks. This notion may enjoy political support among white nationalists, but it commands no credibility among centres of academic learning.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 5, 2012, 10:48 am

        “I have furnished textual evidence of Harris advocating the torture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad whilst he remained in US custody and in possession of no ticking bomb. This concludes the discussion of whether Harris intended his support for torture to have practical application in Gitmo, or whether, like Singer, he was being just theoretical. ”

        No, what you’ve done is present a section of an argument about ethics and presented it as a prescription for action, even in the presence of follow up statements by Harris, and especially in the fact that while he states that he believes that there is no abstract ethical consideration against torture in any situation where we would find collateral damage acceptable, he still finds torture to be unacceptable.

        You are simply wrong and are failing to comprehend that which he actually wrote.

        “The Federation of American Scientists maintains that belief in white superiority is pseudoscience. And so it is with the claims of traditional religion.”

        Nonsense. First of all, you’re conflating two things, methods and conclusions. Harris was talking about the first and the FAS was talking about the second. Further, to my knowledge the FAS does not say that religion is pseudoscience (and if they did, they’re wrong). It’s not pseudoscience, it’s theology. It’s not even pseudoscience. Finally, the FAS did not say that Watson’s views were pseudoscience, it said they were “unsupported by science.” The difference between the two is the key point you fail to understand.

        “Scientific bodies cannot establish what is true. Only what is judged by a consensus of scholars to be credible.”

        “The FAS has determined that white racial supremacism has the same credibility as Intelligent Design and homoeopathy, both ideas championed by the authority cited by Harris to justify his support for psychic phenomena, namely Brian Josephson.”

        Here you make two errors. First, theory: tagging Harris for what Brian Josephson believes is a logical fallacy. Harris never stated that he supported Josephson’s beliefs in Intelligent Design and homeopathy. One can support’s Newton’s physics while rejecting his theology as nonsense. Second, practical: you misstate Harris when you say he does anything “to justify his support for psychic phenomena” or, worse, in your article where you say:

        The takeaway from this seems to be that since these fringe ideas are embraced by a Nobel Laureate, namely Brian Josephson, that Harris is justified in believing them too.

        This statement is wholly and completely false and not justified by the evidence, where he explicitly says, in essence, there is data so I will withhold judgment because I have not done the analysis to determine if the data is meaningful or not. That is the exact opposite of what you are claiming. He is not supporting these ideas, he’s merely withholding judgment on them in light of data which may or may not have relevance to the truth of the ideas.

        “Harris says academics are wrong to call the belief that Africans are less intelligent irrational.”

        No, he didn’t. He said that Watson’s statement were disturbing but that his underlying point was not, in principle, unscientific. And any academic who disagrees with this point is wrong. The idea that there are genetic differences between different populations is well established and there is nothing unscientific, in principle, in saying that one population’s genetics predispose that population to higher intelligence than another. The academics can argue with Watson’s conclusion, but for our purposes here, who cares? Harris was not talking about the conclusions, but the underlying principle employed by Watson, and setting it oppose that of Collins whose world view fully encompasses wholly unscientific things such as a belief in God. To use that to suggest, as you do, that Harris supports Watson’s conclusion is wrongful.

        “The FAS considers the belief discredited anti-science. He stands in opposition to the scientific consensus.”

        First, the FAS considers Watson’s conclusion unscientific. And Harris does not stand in opposition to that conclusion, because he said nothing (except to express finding the conclusion “disturbing”) about Watson’s conclusion, at all.

        “Nobody has denied the role of genes in intelligence…The evidence for physiological differences between ethnic groups has not been questioned.”

        And in these two sentences you completely affirm Harris’s argument. If there is no question that genes play a role in intelligence and there are differences between ethnic groups driven by genes, there is no reason in principle, according to the principles of science that one group’s genetic complement may result in higher intelligence than another. That was the sum and substance of Harris’s point, that you wholly and completely failed to grasp. (It may be that the data will show no difference, but that is irrelevant to Harris’s point that the issue, in principle, is scientific, as opposed to Collins’s bizarre theology. And you have to keep in mind here that the point of the article was not Watson, but Collins. Harris was noting that Collins’s science is infested with wholly unscientific theological notions, yet he still is given the scientific position he was given. A very strange case, indeed.)

        “What has been questioned is the doctrine that whites are mentally superior to blacks. This notion may enjoy political support among white nationalists, but it commands no credibility among centres of academic learning.”

        And no one — including Harris — is disputing this point. Because, again, Harris’s point was solely limited to the issue of whether an examination of the genetic differences related to intelligence between groups is, in principle, a scientific one.

        It is clear that your intent here was to author a hit piece against Harris, not based on things that he actually said or believes, but in an attempt to attach to him any number of false, wrong and unsavory things. I don’t see the benefit to asserting such blatantly unsupported claims.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 5, 2012, 1:58 pm

        “to my knowledge the FAS does not say that religion is pseudoscience (and if they did, they’re wrong). It’s not pseudoscience, it’s theology.”

        Religion makes theories about the nature of life giving rise to disciplines such as Creationism and Intelligent Design. Biologists consider these products of theology pseudoscience.

        “Finally, the FAS did not say that Watson’s views were pseudoscience, it said they were “unsupported by science.” ”

        Unsupported theories are not pseudoscience. Discredited ones are. Like white supremacy.

        “Here you make two errors. First, theory: tagging Harris for what Brian Josephson believes is a logical fallacy. ”

        I do not hold Harris culpable for the utterances of Brian Josephson’s . I hold him accountable for citing a noted fabulist and fantasist in support of the paranormal.

        “One can support’s Newton’s physics while rejecting his theology as nonsense.”

        One may cite the peer reviewed work of Newton as credible. One may not cite his work in alchemy. Harris cites Josephson to bolster claims of psychic ability.

        “He is not supporting these ideas, he’s merely withholding judgment on them in light of data which may or may not have relevance to the truth of the ideas.”

        Harris argues that “There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science”. The data has been shown by science journals to be fraud. And it has not been ignored. It has been widely exploded.

        “He said that Watson’s statement were disturbing but that his underlying point was not, in principle, unscientific.”

        Nothing is unscientific in theory. The laws of physics may be overturned tomorrow and a new paradigm enthroned. Science is not a question of possibility, but of probability. The belief in white supremacy has been discredited. Harris says that it has not. His views enjoy wide popularity in far-right circles. They enjoy none in Science.

        “And in these two sentences you completely affirm Harris’s argument. If there is no question that genes play a role in intelligence and there are differences between ethnic groups driven by genes, there is no reason in principle, according to the principles of science that one group’s genetic complement may result in higher intelligence than another. ”

        There is evidence for outward physical variation between ethnic groups. And there is evidence for much greater inward variation among the gene pool of same ethnic groups. There is no evidence that whites are superior to blacks. More to the point , the influence of heredity on IQ even among people of the same race, as distinct from environment, is inconclusive. But one thing is not inconclusive: That blacks are dumber than whites. That is junk science.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 5, 2012, 4:27 pm

        “Religion makes theories about the nature of life giving rise to disciplines such as Creationism and Intelligent Design.”

        Creationism and Intelligent Design aren’t “disciplines”; they’re nothing but apologetics for theological nonsense.

        “Biologists consider these products of theology pseudoscience.”

        Only those who are very generous to the religious. The rest consider them unscientific theology because the understand that the claim that these things are “scientific” is a lie concocted by their promoters in order to attempt to get around the ban on teaching religion in public schools in the US.

        “Unsupported theories are not pseudoscience. Discredited ones are. Like white supremacy.”

        Pseudoscience is something that is claimed as science but which do not follow the scientific method. An unsupported theory could absolutely be pseudoscience. (e.g., dowsing) A discredited theory could simply be a discredited theory.

        There is, of course, a definition issue: when does belief in a discredited theory reach the point of being the equivalent of pseudoscience. But in the case of the IQ/gene theory, we aren’t there: there is a viable theoretical basis; there is a known mechanism; there is some data. The old fashioned notions of white supremacy was (to the extent it was claimed to be based on science) based on what they believed to be a hierarchy in nature. That is false, and believing in it is unsupportable. That is different than saying that it is theoretically possible, for example, that the fact that Asian populations outscore European populations in IQ tests has a genetic basis. That may or may not be true, but it is not a discredited notion nor an unscientific one, in principle. That was Harris’s point.

        “I do not hold Harris culpable for the utterances of Brian Josephson’s . I hold him accountable for citing a noted fabulist and fantasist in support of the paranormal.”

        Yes, you do. And you do it second hand, too. Harris cited to the fact that Josephson blurbed Dean Radin’s book, and even as he’s specifically stating that he doesn’t believe in these things, you claim this as evidence that Harris is justifying his own belief. And the fact that you made that claim directly after quoting Harris specifically stating that he doesn’t endorse those beliefs tells me that you are purposefully misstating Harris’s views or you are approaching a reckless disregard for the truth of the matter.

        “One may cite the peer reviewed work of Newton as credible. One may not cite his work in alchemy. Harris cites Josephson to bolster claims of psychic ability. “

        No, he doesn’t; Harris isn’t making any “claims of psychic ability” that he would need bolstering. He points to Radin work as constituting a set of data which Harris believes is sufficient to remain undecided on the question. He cites Josephson in passing, as that Nobel Laureate blurbed the book.

        “Harris argues that ‘There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science’.”

        And he says, “I don’t have the time to do the meta-analyses and statistical expertise. So, I’m awaiting the evidence.” In other words, he’s not endorsing the claims. A far cry from the “display of Buddhist convictions” which you asserted in your article.

        “The data has been shown by science journals to be fraud. And it has not been ignored. It has been widely exploded.”

        “Fraud” is a very serious charge. Please cite to any and all peer-reviewed journal articles which established that the data in Radin’s book as being a “fraud.”
        “Nothing is unscientific in theory.”

        Baloney. The idea that God’s whimsy is the sole determining factor as to where a snowflake lands is wholly, completely and unabashedly unscientific – in practice, principle and theory.

        “The belief in white supremacy has been discredited. Harris says that it has not.”

        No, he did not. In fact, I would say that your statement is probably actionable libel.

        “There is evidence for outward physical variation between ethnic groups.”

        There is also much evidence for inward variation between ethnic groups. For example, African-descended peoples are more likely to have sickle cell disease. There is evidence that people of Western African descent have a larger amount of fast twitch muscles. (That, and other genetic and environmental factors explain why 2.8 million-strong Jamaica is a sprinting superpower.) There is evidence that Ashkenazi Jews have higher verbal and mathematical intelligence but lower spatial intelligence. It’s not merely external, nor would we expect it to be.

        “And there is evidence for much greater inward variation among the gene pool of same ethnic groups.”

        This is a true, but often misunderstood statement. Yes, the amount of total allele variation within a given group is higher than the cross-group differences. But the differences between groups is not spread throughout the genome, but is highly correlated to one population or the other. For example, if you had a genetic sample that coded for red hair and lactose tolerance, you can, with near certainty, conclude that it came from a person of Northern Europe descent as opposed one who traces their ancestry to the Navajo tribe of Native Americans, even though there is more genetic differences within those groups than there are between them.

        “There is no evidence that whites are superior to blacks.”

        And another disingenuous thing you are doing is using terms such as “superiority,” “supremacy” and the like. You are purposefully mixing two things: the question of whether one group’s genes may lead to a greater average intelligence is not the same as whether one group is “superior” or “inferior” to another. (For example, if the data shows that Ashkenazim had a higher average verbal IQ, that would not mean that one believed that the group was “superior” to any other.) That’s a purposeful mixing that you are doing, it appears, so as to tar Harris as being a white supremacist, when there is simply no reason to believe that is the case.

        “More to the point , the influence of heredity on IQ even among people of the same race, as distinct from environment, is inconclusive.”

        It may be inconclusive, but the answer to the question is, in principle, a scientific one. Which was Harris’s only point.

        “But one thing is not inconclusive: That blacks are dumber than whites. That is junk science.”

        And here you are arguing with a strawman, because Harris make no such point. His point is that determining if one group has, in principle, a genetic potential for a higher intelligence, is a scientific question, regardless of how the question is answered. But I guess that does not fit with your intention to bash Harris.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 5, 2012, 5:49 pm

        The deception of the paranormal is unmasked by Nature’s review of Radin’s work, a copy of which may be found here:

        link to members.cruzio.com

        The reason Harris withdrew his printed statement of support for mind readers like Radin is plain from the video I linked to: He was laughed at by scientists. When he said that he does not know whether reincarnation is true, the outbreak of laughter dashed his confidence and, visibly flustered, he latched on to the name of Brian Josephson hoping his Nobel win would rescue him from ridicule.

        Few will doubt that citing the authority of an Intelligent Designer with a passion for homoeopathy to bolster your case for mind reading is not the most judicious move. And even fewer will be reassured by the assertion that “There may even be credible evidence for reincarnation”.

      • ToivoS
        September 5, 2012, 7:21 pm

        I just followed this exchange between Theodore and Woody and, if my vote counts, Theodore by decision.

        Just two comments.

        Woody says: Creationism and Intelligent Design aren’t “disciplines”; they’re nothing but apologetics for theological nonsense.

        I actually agree with him here on substance. However, if you listen to Demski or Behe (actually real degree’d scientist) they will make all kinds of defenses that they are a real discipline. Their defenses sound much like your defense of Harris — Sorry Woody, he is just a right-wing hack that is trying to introduce discredited ideas as real science.

        Second point about Watson. His words were indefensible and his termination at CSH was quite proper. For Harris to insist that IQ and race issue is real science is specious. Of course, real scientist have been studying this question for over a century. Study after study showing correlation and concluding causality. Early in the 20 th century Binet was able to conclude that Eastern European Jews were intellectually inferior to Anglo-Saxons based on his IQ testing studies.

        Today we accept that one cannot conclude causality from correlation unless conflicting factors can be controlled. In all of the studies on IQ and race there are two big variables — namely genetics and culture — and no one has been able to tease them apart. Woody, are you aware that there is an extremely strong correlation between East Asian haplotypes and the ability to use chop sticks. Genetics right?

        Watson had to go, as an administrator he did not have first amendment or academic freedom job protection.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 5, 2012, 7:49 pm

        The Nature book review is interesting, but you made a claim that fraud was shown and I asked for peer reviewed papers showing that. Can you?

        Also if you Google “Sam Harris reincarnation” you will see his 2012 statement which is substantively identical to his 2006 statement in the video. So to say he did anything based on how people received his position in 2006 is nonsense.

      • marc b.
        September 6, 2012, 8:50 am

        For Harris to insist that IQ and race issue is real science is specious. Of course, real scientist have been studying this question for over a century. Study after study showing correlation and concluding causality. Early in the 20 th century Binet was able to conclude that Eastern European Jews were intellectually inferior to Anglo-Saxons based on his IQ testing studies.

        Today we accept that one cannot conclude causality from correlation unless conflicting factors can be controlled. In all of the studies on IQ and race there are two big variables — namely genetics and culture — and no one has been able to tease them apart.

        and i would add, although you’ve already implied it, that there is not, and may never be, a single, accurate test to measure ‘natural’ intelligence. the current favorite is the wechsler intelligence scale, which largely supplanted the stanford-binet test, WIS being originally developed to test candidates for military service. this is a similar history to that of the DSM, which sets standards for psychological disorders, which also grew out of testing to determine fitness for military service. you don’t need to have served in the military to understand that ‘psychological fitness for military service’ might not be synonymous with general psychological well being. someone who is unwilling or unable to stand silently at attention while being screamed at and threatened with physical harm is ‘not psychologically fit for military service’. see also the recent controversy over inclusion of certain ‘anti-authoritarian’ disorders into the as of yet unissued DSM V, including a diagnosed disorder (the proposed name of which i forget at the moment) attaching to people who are overly critical (measure that, would you) of government’s response to financial crises.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 6, 2012, 10:17 am

        ToivoS
        Well, of course you agree with Sayeed, your reply includes many of the same indefensible mistakes of logic as his. Indeed, your nonsense about chopsticks proves beyond doubt that you don’t even understand the subject matter of what Harris was saying. Especially given the fact that your writing immediately preceding it demonstrates tht what Harris actually wrote [and Sayeed’s nonsensical misrepresentation of it] is correct. It is a shame that you have either the disinclination or the inability to fully read and comprehend Harris’s clear language. I can lead a person to the truth, I can’t make him think.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 7, 2012, 10:03 am

        “However, if you listen to Demski or Behe (actually real degree’d scientist) they will make all kinds of defenses that they are a real discipline”

        Whether someone has a degree and whether that person is doing science are two different things. Yes, Demski and Behe have degrees, but they’ve not done science in years, if ever.

      • aiman
        September 11, 2012, 1:28 am

        “Indeed, your nonsense about chopsticks proves beyond doubt that you don’t even understand the subject matter of what Harris was saying.”

        Interesting that you continually ascribe “nonsense” to the critics of Harris, and even whilst claiming that you are not Harris’s fan are first in line to reinterpret his morally reprehensible positions. Is atheism so lacking in leaders/thinkers that every last cur in a collar must be cheered on? How are atheist tribalists different from religious tribalists? The only problem with Sayeed’s article is that he pays the usual atheist deference to the High Priest of the Order, Richard Dawkins, as can be expected, nobody wants to go to far.

    • lareineblanche
      September 4, 2012, 7:24 pm

      Although I haven’t read the book, this statement seems to me to be a clear endorsement of torture, not many other ways to interpret it:

      If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking.

      It should also be noted that this is almost always how those who condone torture proceed, that it is only in “extreme”, “ticking time-bomb” cases – the relevant law, I think, says otherwise (signed and ratified by the US):

      Article 2
      1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
      2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

      link to www2.ohchr.org

      The point about there being a certain hypocrisy with on the one hand:
      1) allowing the aggression and invasion of several countries
      and at the same time
      2) barring torture
      does have some validity in my opinion, and might be a fair point – if the statement could be interpreted in that light… Of course the way out of that conundrum would be to repudiate the invasions as well as the torture.

  7. Chu
    September 4, 2012, 4:47 pm

    I started to search for Sam Harris and the autofill option had lying after his name.
    Not a good sign for Harris.

    This guy is reminds me of fellow greaseball, Shmuley Boteach. They lurk in the shadows, but their ideology is arsenic to supposed western values.

    Boteach. What’s happened with his congressional run? If you thought Chuck Shumer was bad news, Boteach’s website is already wanking-off about the ‘circumcision police’ in Germany. Perhaps he should focus on what residents of New Jersey’s district require. But you elect a Rabbi, you get what [Adelson & his wife] pay for.

    • Annie Robbins
      September 4, 2012, 5:06 pm

      chu,out of curiosity i googled Boteach and congress by ‘news’ and look what popped up from sept 1st, link to frontpagemag.com

      A campaign event for Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was attacked by a Code Pink militant who calls herself “Rae Abileah”. Rabbi Boteach is running for Congress in NJ-9 against Democratic Bill Pascrell, who called a Hamas member “peaceloving”.

      only the photo was of her being attacked in the halls of congress over a year ago by an aipac member and who was next to him? boteach! the halls of congress are hardly a ‘campaign event’ link to mondoweiss.net

      funny.sorry for the OT

      • Chu
        September 4, 2012, 5:34 pm

        Yeah, that’s him in the photo… The fact that the Adelson family can bankroll this creep is another reason why the Oligarchs of the US clearly are spoiling the apple cart. Chris Hayes is correct suggesting we are headed toward neo-feudalism with this type of political favor.

        Right now, Boteach is trying to smear his opponent, Bill Pascarell, saying he is a Muslim sympathizer. And they are neck in neck in recent polling.

        Boteach Attacks
        The Republican candidate [Boteach] provided a stack of purported Qatanani quotes to the media from the imam, including the following: “Oh brothers and sisters. On such a day, a human disaster occurred: on 5 and ten, the 15th day of May 1948 was the greatest disaster which occurred on the face of the earth. It is what is known as the Palestinian Nakba. This Nakba, because of this Nakba, the State of Israel was established on the Land of Palestine.”

        I hope that the Boteach strategy backfires. And it very well could.

      • piotr
        September 4, 2012, 6:13 pm

        Annie,

        Boteach wrote about assaulting Abileah which happened just next to him, how he pondered in his mind if he should join or not, and how he decided that it can be misconstrued if a clergyman lays hands on a young woman (given some unfortunate recent problems): I could just imagine the headlines the next day: “Rabbi accosts protester in Congress.” Or worse. “Author of Kosher Sex grabs woman in US House.” “Rabbi Shmuley all over woman in spectator gallery”.
        link to huffingtonpost.com
        I would not be surprised if that would motivate Rae to pay a visit to a public campaign event of Rabbi Shmuley. And if he shouted to his followers “but do not beat her up! she will sue the last nickel out of you!”.

    • MakeTheMostOfLife
      September 5, 2012, 7:13 pm

      He wrote a book titled – Lying

    • dr_harper
      September 5, 2012, 8:37 pm

      I started to search for Sam Harris and the autofill option had lying after his name. Not a good sign for Harris.

      I don’t suppose this has anything to do with the fact that Sam Harris recently authored an ebook titled “Lying.”

      • Cliff
        September 8, 2012, 4:42 am

        If Sam Harris cites liars like Alan Dershowitz as authorities on the Israel-Palestine conflict and then goes on to mystify Palestinian opposition to Zionism as being rooted in ancient, un-understandable, vague Jew-hatred – then it’s appropriate he should title his autobiography, ‘Lying.’

  8. piotr
    September 4, 2012, 5:30 pm

    Did Norman Finkelstein prove that “The Case For Israel” is a “hoax”? I think that Norman proved that Derschowitz plagiarized a lot from a fellow Zionist Joan Peters, which in my mother tongue would qualify as “bad is the bird that shits in its own nest”. It is a separate issue that Joan Peters herself had less than exemplary scholarship (like using anecdotes of Mark Twain to prove her claims on the demographic situation in Palestine in XIX century).

    The second quibble is that so many pundits spout nonsense while revealing no brain activity that one can make the case that the consciousness (or whatever they have) does not have to reside in the brain. Imagine an interview with Michelle Bachmann right after removal of the brain.

    • Theodore Sayeed
      September 5, 2012, 6:30 pm

      Dersh’s book was a thermonuclear missile lobbed against historical truth. A hoax in the grand manner. Harris quotes from it approvingly in The End of Faith to show that Palestinians are not mistreated by Israel. Perhaps the good host of Democracy Now could book a showdown between Finkelstein and Dershowitz’s Buddhist protege. I think Mr Harris would profit measurelessly from the education.

    • lareineblanche
      September 5, 2012, 7:32 pm

      Yes, Finkelstein exposed the Peters book as a hoax first. It wasn’t really an issue of “less than exemplary” scholarship, it was actual falsifying of information, and other misleading tactics. In other words, a worthless brick of propaganda.
      Dershowitz’s book, “The Case for Israel”, written later, was found to have passages very similar or almost verbatim to the Peters book, and Finkelstein revealed that as well in his book “Beyond Chutzpah”. That might be what helped end his career at DePaul, and it’s too bad he went for the jugular on Dershowitz, he could have simply accused him of shoddy scholarship without the accusations of plagiarism.
      link to counterpunch.org

      The fact remains, though, that Dershowitz not only probably plagiarized a book, but a worthless one at that – a real tour de force of dishonesty only an artist like himself could conjure up…

  9. yourstruly
    September 4, 2012, 8:11 pm

    where did harris come up with jewish germans not being assimilated? weren’t zionists pitching hitler the one about jewish nationalism being a way to seperate jews from volksdeutsche, thereby avoiding the dreaded mixing of the races?

    • NCINA
      September 4, 2012, 11:36 pm

      Some Jewish-Germans were assimilated and some weren’t it didn’t stop them getting exterminated en mass whichever their persuasion.

      Jewish people aren’t a race, one only has to look at the Israeli demographics of Jews. Of the Jewish population roughly 40% are ‘Arab’-Jews, 120,000 Black ‘Ethiopian’-Jews, 40-50% (Caucasian) European-Jews, even a splattering of Chinese and Indian-Jews. People can’t convert into a race or ethnic group. People can become Jewish and many have throughout the ages. Although I think Jewish people are considered an ethno-religious group most Jews are born of a Jewish mother, some adopt other belief systems and even non-religion but remain ethnically Jewish. I’ve always thought all or a combination of: people, nation, ethno-religious group and religion

      It is also true according to the leading studies that most, not all Jews share recent common ancestry more similar with each other and people of Israel than by the populations they lived in the diaspora.

      link to familytreedna.com 6_ Doron.pdf
      link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
      link to pnas.org
      link to nature.com
      link to nytimes.com
      link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
      link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 7, 2012, 10:00 am

        “It is also true according to the leading studies that most, not all Jews share recent common ancestry more similar with each other and people of Israel than by the populations they lived in the diaspora.”

        That is a stupid way of putting it. First, 1/5 of the the “people of israel” are non-Jews. And, further, of those Jews, none of them are far removed enough from the diaspora for anyone to expect any genetic difference. Genetically speaking, the Jews occupying Palestine are the same as the diaspora Jewish populations from which almost all of them came in the last few decades.

  10. Abdul-Rahman
    September 5, 2012, 4:02 am

    Putting aside that Harris is a vile, xenophobic, imperialist ahole; it is “interesting” that he was such a cheerleader for the illegal invasion of Iraq (based on Bush and companies utter lies). As Saddam was a secular Baathist (Baathism being a form of SECULAR, pan-Arab nationalism with elements of quasi-socialism whose main intellectual founder was the Arab Christian Michel Aflaq who along with other early Baathists studied in France and adopted many French ideas for themselves which are evident both in the former law code of Saddam’s Iraq especially pre-First Gulf War and also till this day in Bashar al-Assad ruled Syria. Syria today could very seriously be argued to be one of, if not likely thee, most secular government in the Middle East region itself; as the Zionist’s entity has the ever growing power of ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas, etc).

    And also does Sam not realize Iraq is today a religiously based government, which has replaced Saddam? For example see near the end of this video at 2:42 were Iraq comes up and interesting points for someone like Sam lol: link to youtube.com

    • marc b.
      September 5, 2012, 8:36 am

      And also does Sam not realize Iraq is today a religiously based government, which has replaced Saddam?

      abdul, sam doesn’t realize sh*t, if you are referring to logical analysis. he conflates arabs and muslims, both of which are part of a barely differentiated mass that is only worth viewing in broad demographic chunks, even those chunks to be analysed through the lens of the ‘war of civilizations’ meme. he is exactly what he smells like, someone hiding behind the skirt of scientific objectivity when every sentence he writes is dripping wet with personal, racially infected bias. if you read his silly little column criticizing friedman’s take on the death of bin laden you’ll get the jist of harris.

    • piotr
      September 5, 2012, 6:51 pm

      “Secular nationalism” in Arab counties is not (was not?) particularly secular, but clearly the current replacement in Iraq is hardly secular, and Syria may have outright Salafi/Wahhabi dictatorship if rebels win. Our policies in the region are insane. In a nutshell, USA tries to achieve certain goals (stable friendly country X, X being Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, perhaps Iran) by recruiting allies who absolutely hate us (and we hate them). And who hate each other.

      A nice episode was hiring Ethiopian Communists to fight Salafists in Somalia. It even worked for a short period.

      Empire nowadays is not a rational activity. Irrationality does not require theism, it is just sufficient to be a conformist, and then it is pretty easy. Nonconformism per se is not a total cure, of course, but it is necessary.

  11. MakeTheMostOfLife
    September 5, 2012, 7:18 pm

    Your article proves that Harris is spot on went his criticises people like you for misrepresenting him.

    Why not quote these passages about torture:

    ” It appears that such restraint in the use of torture cannot be
    reconciled with our willingness to wage war in the first place. What,
    after all, is “collateral damage” but the inadvertent torture of innocent
    men, women, and children? Whenever we consent to drop
    bombs, we do so with the knowledge that some number of children
    will be blinded, disemboweled, paralyzed, orphaned, and killed by
    them. It is curious that while the torture of Osama bin Laden himself
    could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among
    our leaders, the unintended (though perfectly foreseeable, and
    therefore accepted) slaughter of children does not…….

    I believe that I have successfully argued for the use of torture in any circumstance
    in which we would be willing to cause collateral damage. Paradoxically,
    this equivalence has not made the practice of torture seem any
    more acceptable to me; nor has it, I trust, for most readers.”

    This passage does not give Harris the credit of the case he is trying to make, but at least readers will get and idea that by reading the book, he is trying to make a case that is way deeper then what you are (mis)representing from him. Your chosen quote goes to the heart of the problem. Its clear in the broad context the entire point he is making over torture is in comparison to our current acceptance of collateral damage.

    • Theodore Sayeed
      September 6, 2012, 1:35 am

      It is wise that you cut off the quote from Harris where you did. The rest of the passage might not have been a source of moral pride for you. It calls for people who back the War on Terror like he to be willing to torture those who whom they would in any case kill, even if it is sometimes misapplied, for bombs too are sometimes misdirected:

      Whenever we consent to drop bombs, we do so with the knowledge that some number of children will be blinded, disemboweled, paralyzed, orphaned, and killed by them. It is curious that while the torture of Osama bin Laden himself could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among our leaders, the unintended (though perfectly foreseeable, and therefore accepted) slaughter of children does not.

      So we can now ask, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with suspected terrorists? What is the difference between pursuing a course of action where we run the risk of inadvertently subjecting some innocent men to torture, and pursuing one in which we will inadvertently kill far greater numbers of innocent men, women, and children? Rather, it seems obvious that the misapplication of torture should be far less troubling to us than collateral damage: there are, after all, no infants interned at Guantanamo Bay, just rather scrofulous young men, many of whom were caught in the very act of trying to kill our soldiers.

      (The End of Faith, p 194)

      The racist description of Afghans held in a Gitmo torture centre as “scrofulous” and dirty is something I have failed to address in the past for which I apologise to the people of that country.

      His method of building up to a justification of torture here will be familiar to those who meet proponents of capital punishment: They defend their position by feigning concern for the “mental torture” wrought by lifetime imprisonment only to suggest that death is more compassionate. Harris pulls the same stunt by depicting the more ruinous effect of bombs than torture only to prescribe the use of both against those “caught in the very act of trying to kill our soldiers”, meaning foreign invaders who massacre Afghan and Iraqi civilians.

      This should be read in conjunction with his statement quoted in my last article that “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.”

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 6, 2012, 2:02 am

        By some accident my own words got thrown inside the block quote with the passage from The End of Faith. It should be clear that the passage ends where the source reference is provided. I will have the fault amended later.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 6, 2012, 3:02 am

        The paragraph your quote begins with:

        “So we can now ask, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with suspected terrorists?”

        & the point he make is based on that.”

        “Life under the Taliban is, to a first approximation, what millions of Muslims around the world want to impose on the rest of us. They long to establish a society in which—when times are good—women will remain vanquished and invisible, and anyone given to spiritual, intellectual, or sexual freedom will be slaughtered before crowds of sullen, uneducated men. This, needless to say, is a vision of life worth resisting. We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril. Given the proliferation of weaponry in our world, we no longer have the option of waging this war with swords. It seems certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be a part of our future for many years to come.”

        “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.”

        How does that make your case that Harris is just a blind supporter of torture?? You could make a say that he doesn’t think a war is possible without collateral damage, and it is a war we need to win.

        Harris does not support torture in the way that you are so keen to make it seem, and when he speaks he does not ascribe the views you say that he does.

        I would be interested in your views on collateral damage & its implications on torture.

        Do you believe war in necessary?
        Do you believe collateral damage, is an acceptable part of war?
        Can you please explain to me why, in moral terms Harris is wrong when equating the two?

        Do you believe morally that there is just no circumstance ever, or scenario that could be devised that would make the application of torture acceptable?

      • dereksmear
        September 6, 2012, 5:48 am

        Well, for a starter Harris violates the logic he uses to criticise Chomsky:

        “Nothing in Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”). In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could not be more distinct… For Chomsky, intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.”

        But now………

        “It seems, in fact, that many people do not understand what the phrase “collateral damage” signifies, and this leads them to imagine that I have drawn a false analogy. Most assume my analogy fails in the following way: torture is the intentional infliction of guaranteed suffering, while collateral damage is the unintentional imposition of possible suffering (or death). Apples and oranges.

        But this isn’t true. We often drop bombs knowing that innocent people will be killed or horribly injured by them. We target buildings in which combatants are hiding, knowing that noncombatants are also in those buildings, or standing too close to escape destruction. And when innocent people are killed or injured—when children are burned over most of their bodies and live to suffer interminable pain and horrible disfigurement—our leaders accept this as the cost of doing business in a time of war. Many people oppose specific wars, of course—like the war in Iraq—but no public figure has been vilified for accepting collateral damage in a war that is deemed just. And yet anyone who would defend the water-boarding a terrorist like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad will reap a whirlwind of public criticism. This makes no moral sense (to me).”

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 6, 2012, 6:45 am

        How does that further your case?

        In fact the fact that now you are using collateral damage comparison quote from Harris, is however interesting. Does it not appear to you to be a vital point which Harris is contrasting at every stage, and yet somehow you managed to leave this out on your piece.

        This to me is dishonest, it is exactly what Harris is complaining about. You not honestly representing this comparison is vital to Harris’ point on torture.

        Do you think it an utterly unthought provoking comparison?

      • lareineblanche
        September 6, 2012, 8:32 am

        Three things:
        1) Harris’ point about collateral damage is correct, in that any warfare, especially bombing campaigns, will invariably kill civilians. This is uncontroversial, and anyone who pushes for war and intervention simultaneously calls for collateral damage, casualties, displacements, etc., you can’t have one without the other. Such nonsense as “surgical bombing” and other fantasies are just that – fantasies concocted to sell the war to the public. In that sense, Harris is right to highlight the inconsistency of those who criticize torture but support war and invasions (such as Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia) – it is no doubt somewhat hypocritical, and he does have a point about the dubious morality of such a position.
        2) However, Harris puts this argument in a context of someone who supports both, when circumstances require. There is no other way to interpret this statement:

        We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.

        He does not unequivocally reject torture, does not unequivocally reject the collateral damage resulting from warfare, and it’s false to say so.
        3) This makes Harris’ position actually worse, as he recognizes the need for and inevitability of both. Recognizing the inevitability of collateral damage, instead of rejecting the military campaigns, he raises torture to the same level, and argues that it too is an inevitable practice in extreme circumstances. If one argues that it is inevitable or useful in certain rare extreme circumstances – even if it should as a rule be avoided, similar to Dershowitz’s position – then one does indeed accept torture. I’m sorry, there seems to be no other way to spin this.

        Aside from the moral issue, it seems strange to me that someone touting his “rational” credentials can even support torture on tactical grounds, as such CIA tactics (there is a long history) have been shown inconclusively to be rather ineffective by people such as Ali Soufan and others. Someone being tortured will eventually tell you anything to make it stop, this is really common sense. So, on a purely logical level, it just makes no sense either. One generally does not procure reliable information from torture, full stop.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 6, 2012, 10:20 am

        “How does that make your case that Harris is just a blind supporter of torture??”

        It doesn’t. Sayeed is hell bent on tilting at this windmill, regardless of the facts.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 6, 2012, 10:29 am

        “Three things:”

        I would suggest that you go back and actually read Harris’s book. (I would also recommend reading his posted statement regarding the criticisms and misstatements about his views he posted.) Because from your statements here, I can only assume that you haven’t read his, but are reacting to people’s (wrong) impression of what he is saying. (That is, if you are interested in forming a valid, informed opinion. If you’re just seeking to vent your spleen and think Harris is a good target, then go at it.)

      • lareineblanche
        September 6, 2012, 1:58 pm

        Fair enough, but do you have anything to say about the quotes here, which are clearly his words? If they are actually his statements, they can’t really be misconstrued… Are you saying the passages others and I have quoted here are inaccurate?

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 6, 2012, 2:35 pm

        “Fair enough, but do you have anything to say about the quotes here, which are clearly his words?”

        I would say they were taken out of context are are often part of a larger discussion of issues. For example, the part you quoted here is part of a discussion concerning pacifism and your discussion of that statement omits that crucial point.

        “If they are actually his statements, they can’t really be misconstrued…”

        Sure you can, if you take them out of context.

        “Are you saying the passages others and I have quoted here are inaccurate?” I don’t think any of them omitted or changed any words (although I didn’t check all of them to be sure). I do think they were taken out of context; misread; misunderstood and/or simply ignored.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 6, 2012, 2:47 pm

        Ah…. Trying to reply on smartphone …. did not realise a different commenter :(

      • Donald
        September 6, 2012, 3:09 pm

        “He does not unequivocally reject torture, does not unequivocally reject the collateral damage resulting from warfare, and it’s false to say so.
        3) This makes Harris’ position actually worse, as he recognizes the need for and inevitability of both. Recognizing the inevitability of collateral damage, instead of rejecting the military campaigns, he raises torture to the same level, and argues that it too is an inevitable practice in extreme circumstances. If one argues that it is inevitable or useful in certain rare extreme circumstances – even if it should as a rule be avoided, similar to Dershowitz’s position – then one does indeed accept torture. ”

        Seems right to me. I just don’t value “thought-provoking” comparisons when the point of the comparison seems to be to open the door to yet more ways for people to be cruel to each other. I think it’s thought-provoking to make such comparisons if the intent is to make us realize that we are crueller than we like to admit. Along those lines I often compare Islamic terrorism to Western styles of war. The point there is that if we denounce terror attacks against civilians then we should also denounce unjust wars that kill civilians, whether or not the civilians are deliberately targeted. (I think sometimes they are anyway.) But I’m not going to compare collateral damage to torture if the idea is that since we accept collateral damage we might as well take the next step and use torture when we think it might work, accepting that sometimes innocents will be tortured.

      • marc b.
        September 6, 2012, 3:14 pm

        3) This makes Harris’ position actually worse, as he recognizes the need for and inevitability of both.

        that was the relative point i was going to make, white queen. woody’s argument that harris’s actual position is that torture should remain illegal, but still be practiced, is a radical concession to unrestrained executive authority, and if i could play amateur psychologist for a moment, a revealing bit of evidence about what a pathological a-hole harris truly is.

        woody on harris:
        Your part about torture is exactly what I’m talking about. In the book he does not say that he supports torture; in fact, he believes it should remain illegal.

        harris:
        If there is even one chance in a million that he [KSM] will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking. (The End of Faith, p. 198)

        the fact that the torture of KSM elicited ‘confessions’ of crimes that he could not have possibly been involved in, e.g. the Liberty Towers plot, and which confessions confirm the unreliability of information obtained under torture (Army Training Manual on interrogation: “the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”) is irrelevant to harris the scientist.

      • MHughes976
        September 6, 2012, 3:54 pm

        Well, I couldn’t say whether lrb is misrepresenting Harris but her critique of the argument she attributes to him is valid. I’d agree that a society that proclaims that it will never use torture should also renounce other actions that break the same moral rules and I can see that the argument that that includes forms of warfare where significant collateral damage to innocent people is to be expected, that is the forms of warfare that the West currently favours.
        However not all forms of modern warfare are touched by this argument. The 1st of July 1916 is on some accounts reckoned as the worst day in British military history, since we suffered 20,000 combatant casualties in the vast fields of France. But the direct collateral damage to the French civil population in the course of this ‘trench warfare’ was probably nil.
        And we should remember that not all damage to non-combatants in warfare like that in Iraq is genuinely collateral, ie an undesired side-effect. If we use ‘shock and awe’ damage to non-combatants is fully intended as part of the main effect.
        Again, I think that the principle ‘I will not select non-combatants for terrible suffering, not even enemy prisoners’ can be distinguished from the principle ‘I will not take action that will inevitably expose some non-combatants or some innocents to terrible suffering’. Both principles rule out torture but only the second rules out genuinely collateral damage (and might rule out basing an economy on private car use) since ‘my’ collateral victims are exposed to danger by misfortune or by decisions other than mine. ‘My’ torture victims are selected by me because I want information from them or because I want to terrorise their friends or because I find it fun.
        As to intentions, the intention to avoid collateral damage implies, if it is genuine, that you are taking a package of actions where you are committed only to the main element, and would avoid the others if you possibly could. This is distinct from the situation where every action in the package is fully intended. (Catholic morality contrasts killing a foetus where the intention is simply to terminate the pregnancy and where the intention is to cure the prospective mother’s cancer: and these are different intentions, whether or not we think the difference morally crucial.)
        As to effects: you can’t expect to fight a war unless you train some people as soldiers. You can’t expect to extract information by torture unless you train some people in the use of the waterboard or the iron maiden. The social consequences of having a corps of torturers ensconced in your society are desperately bad.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 7, 2012, 10:20 am

        “woody’s argument that harris’s actual position is that torture should remain illegal, but still be practiced”

        That’s not my argument. My argument is that Harris has stated that torture should be illegal, but that he concedes that it is not always ethically unjustifiable, as compared to collateral damage, which people would deem to be, in some situations, to be ethically justified.

        Further, the “false information” argument is not only not “irrelevant to harris the scientist,” but he addresses it, as well.

        Again, I am not a big fan of Harris, and his ideas about torture. However, I know enough about him to say when someone’s depiction of his views is wrong. I don’t think it does anyone any good to espouse fallacies about easily verifiable facts.

      • marc b.
        September 7, 2012, 9:19 pm

        now woody, you said, your words, that harris ‘does not support torture’ and that it should be ‘illegal’. so how can he then ‘concede that it is not always ethically unjustifiable’? is he confusing ethics and the law, and/or do you mean morally justifiable, and not ethically justifiable? i’ll admit that i am not nearly as versed in harris’s arguments as you and theodore, but my impression of harris from the handfull of articles on his blog dealing with the politics of the war on terror is that he is indistinguishable from the garden variety apologist for murder and mayhem.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 8, 2012, 5:34 am

        @ MakeTheMostOfLife

        No blame attaches to a man who thinks torture may in some remote cases be justified. Peter Singer holds that view. And I have praised him in the article for the high calibre of his work and his moral vision. The distinction is that Harris is a keen mouthpiece for war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Sudan, Guantanamo Bay and, depending on whether it acquires a nuclear bomb, Iran.

        Peter Singer has denounced all these ventures. His views on torture bear on domestic law enforcement, namely in cases like the child abduction incident in Germany where police threatened the kidnapper with violence if he did not surrender the location of the boy; the argument of Harris bears on the offshore torture sites of America’s imperial wars. He does not, like Singer, press for the torture of white non-Muslim criminals, nor does he argue, as intellectually consistent thinkers like Singer do, that the argument for torture applies equally to the young innocent children of criminals if that is what is demanded to make the suspect give up the intelligence needed to save lives, a proposal Harris explicitly rejects in The End of Faith because he knows the torture of kids will render his support for Gitmo unpalatable to the public.

        I doubt the wisdom of Singer’s position on torture. But I do not doubt that he is the most profound moral thinker living. The same cannot be said for the man who said about the civilian deaths in Afghanistan that “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.”

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 8, 2012, 6:00 am

        @ Marc B

        Harris argues that torture ought to be formally illegal, but that in cases where interrogators do use it like the torture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, no legal prosecution should follow. He cites the work of Mark Bowden to bolster his position:

        “Bowden recommends that we keep torture illegal, and maintain a policy of not torturing anybody for any reason. But our interrogators should know that there are certain circumstances in which it will be ethical to break the law. Indeed, there are circumstances in which you would have to be a monster not to break the law. If an interrogator finds himself in such a circumstance, and he breaks the law, there will not be much of a will to prosecute him (and interrogators will know this). ”

        Source:

        link to samharris.org

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 8, 2012, 6:41 pm

        Wow you slam Harris so hard and yet sing Singers praises from the roof tops… Even though you disagree with him on torture. How about his views on infanticide, bestiality & incest.

        Don’t get me wrong I love Singers views and the presentation of them that really make you think. Whether I agree with them or not I have massive respect for the man as well.

        Do you agree with Singer all those points as well? They are pretty controversial.

        This is exactly why I like Sam Harris so much. He is pushing the boundaries and really making you think about how much I had fallen for the acceptance of collateral damage. I find it hard to draw a distinction between Singer and Harris, both pressing incredibly lucid arguments for highly controversial topics. However one you heap on praise and the other vicious scorn.

        “He does not, like Singer, press for the torture of white non-Muslim criminals”

        Actually he does exactly this in subsequent interviews, clarifying he view on torture, using the example of a kidnapped daughter, and raising the stakes based on that scenario.

        “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.” Quote from Harris…

        That is exactly how all the wars are already being fought. Do you want to slam Bush and Obama and Blair etc and every leader, general, exactly with the hate you have for Harris. They all operate under this exact pretext already, and this is precisely the point Harris is making. In the broad writing of this text he attacks and horror of collateral damage and our blind acceptance of it 100 time more then his support for torture but you ignore all these passages.

        I will ask you again …. why in moral terms in Harris so wrong. That 100s of children can be killed as a necessary part of war as collateral damage, and yet torturing a high ranking terrorist individual for information that could save lives is somehow worse.

        In moral terms I ask you… Why is collateral damage so acceptable for you?

        -Unless you are a complete pacifist, then you believe war is necessary in some cases.
        -We are fighting a war against an enemy that would seek to wipe the USA off the face of the planet, by all and any means necessary. (Experts estimate a Nuclear or Chemical attack on a US city by a terrorist in the next 15 yrs to be 30%-50% likely)
        -Pacifism is not an option.
        -Force must be used & this will undoubtedly cause collateral damage. We accept this.
        -Subjecting a murdering genocidal terrorist to pain to get information that could save lives, surely is less bad then 100 children being killing as collateral damage, in moral terms.

        Its not a horrific case Harris is making. He is not pro torture or pro collateral damage, but just raising a comparison between the two regard a war that somehow needs to be won. The only thing you can infer is that Harris is not a pacifist.

        As for all this stuff about torture being completely ineffective. It is effective enough that all elite forces all over the world get torture resistance training, from which I have head directly, the most harrowing run down of what that entailed. Clearly all the military on our side think that torture works when used against us, if they have to train the top guys to deal with it.

        Torture may not always produce results, but it very well might, and pretending that i will ‘never’ produce results is misguided.

      • dereksmear
        September 9, 2012, 6:42 am

        We are fighting a war against an enemy that would seek to wipe the USA off the face of the planet, by all and any means necessary.

        My god, you are right!!!! Those insane Arabs. You are wrong about nukes though, this is how they will destroy the US.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 10, 2012, 10:21 am

        “you said, your words, that harris ‘does not support torture’ and that it should be ‘illegal’.”

        No, that was not “my words” that was a truncation of my words. My words were: “Harris does not support torture in the way that you are so keen to make it seem.” The distinction between the two is key.

        “so how can he then ‘concede that it is not always ethically unjustifiable’?”

        Because he could say, on the one hand, that he finds torture in certain circumstances acceptable ethically, but he beleives it should not be supported because of practical considerations.

        I would say that this is similar to my position on capital punishment. I have no ethical objection to executing certain classes of criminals (those who commit murder or certain abusers of children, for example.) However, I oppose the practice because, as a practical matter, we can rarely have absolute certainty that the person is guilty.

        “is he confusing ethics and the law, and/or do you mean morally justifiable, and not ethically justifiable?”

        His whole discussion is one of the ethnics of good and evil; the failure of critics to recognize all that that entails is a primarly problem in dealing with criticisms of his work. (And I say this as someone who is not a fan of his, on the whole.)

        “but my impression of harris from the handfull of articles on his blog dealing with the politics of the war on terror is that he is indistinguishable from the garden variety apologist for murder and mayhem.”

        I would sugest that you not read him as commenting on politics, but suggest you read him as commenting on ethics and the physiology of belief, which is what he states he is doing.

  12. ColinWright
    September 5, 2012, 7:53 pm

    piotr says: “A nice episode was hiring Ethiopian Communists to fight Salafists in Somalia. It even worked for a short period.”

    Wasn’t it Ethiopian Christians? And it was to overthrow the (relatively moderate) Union of Islamic Courts.

    Then we got the Salafists. Not very surprisingly.

    If we were trying to be stupid, we couldn’t do worse.

  13. Theodore Sayeed
    September 9, 2012, 7:17 am

    “How about his (Peter Singer’s) views on infanticide, bestiality & incest.”

    No free society should govern the sexual morality of consenting adult beings. If there is a “controversy”, it is between authoritarians and civil libertarians. That concludes the question of incest and bestiality.

    On infanticide, Singer thinks medical authorities must cease the current practise of withdrawing food and treatment from terminally disabled infants who die from slow starvation, and instead terminate their life painlessly. I share his humane prescription.

    “I find it hard to draw a distinction between Singer and Harris, both pressing incredibly lucid arguments for highly controversial topics. However one you heap on praise and the other vicious scorn.”

    I have no doubt that Harris is a very lucid communicator. I made the point myself in my previous review. But he is not a very cogent one. The mark of a weighty intellectual is not their gift for controversy. Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly do sensationalism better.

    “Actually he does exactly this (namely support the torture of white non-Muslims) in subsequent interviews, clarifying he view on torture, using the example of a kidnapped daughter, and raising the stakes based on that scenario.”

    I have read everything Harris has written on the subject of foreign policy, and you must be referring to his interview with the New Statesman. He does not advocate the introduction of torture into the legal system for non-terrorist crimes or torturing the young as Singer does. Nor is the argument about kidnapping a girl. It is about whether it would be right to murder a girl if doing so would cure cancer, a point he raises in the middle of a discussion about coercive interrogation of terror suspects, or whether it is morally sound to ever raise the speed limit to secure a faster journey even though doing so kills people, and if so, then we bear the deaths of children killed by motorists. These analogies are cited for the purpose of defending his support for torturing Muslims, not killing American girls or raising the speed limit.

    “That is exactly how all the wars are already being fought. Do you want to slam Bush and Obama and Blair etc and every leader, general, exactly with the hate you have for Harris. ”

    Bush is a war criminal. I delight to see that you think, along with Harris, that Bush’s wars are just. We are both united in a clear understanding of his work.

    “In the broad writing of this text he attacks and horror of collateral damage and our blind acceptance of it 100 time more then his support for torture but you ignore all these passages.”

    You have supplied no evidence that Harris has retracted his support for collateral damage. What you have supplied is two paragraphs separated by an ellipsis. The section you deliberately omitted forms the concluding part of his justification for Bush’s torture programme which proceeds in the following manner (1) Bombing Afghanistan was a noble thing (2) Such bombing raids kill innocent people (3) Collateral damage is not a problem because Muslims want to impose Shariah on Americans (4) People who support bombing civilians should also support torture and (5) the torture of innocent people detained in Gitmo is not an obstacle either for we already kill innocent people in our just wars.

    That is his argument. I hope you will respect Harris enough not to distort it by providing quotations which run together separate paragraphs that omit key sections of his argument or by citing interviews which have nothing to do with the “kidnap” or torture of American girls.

    • MakeTheMostOfLife
      September 9, 2012, 6:31 pm

      “You have supplied no evidence that Harris has retracted his support for collateral damage.”

      Harris has frequently talked about the horrors of collateral damage, but just that it is necessary as part of the war we have to fight. You are completely twisting his words just calling him a collateral damage supporter. This is a interview with Harris where amongst a ton of other things he speaks about how media in war is a good thing as it highlights just how bad collateral damage is and our blind acceptance of it. He also does not defend the Iraq War although you like to call him a mouth piece for it.

      I would advise all the readers of this thread to watch this to get the big picture on Harris’ thought process and views

      It is increasingly tiring to have you just picking threads of a few of Harris’ sentences, rather then address the big picture. You have repeatedly failed to give me your view despite my questioning about what the answer is to things like collateral damage, and war. Eg “Harris is wrong & this is what we should do instead…” Clearly you don’t agree with torture, but what are your views on the others? I ask again:

      I would be interested in your views on collateral damage & its implications on torture.

      Do you believe war in necessary?
      Do you believe collateral damage, is an acceptable part of war?
      Can you please explain to me why, in moral terms Harris is wrong when equating the two?

      And a second time:

      In moral terms I ask you… Why is collateral damage so acceptable for you?

      -Unless you are a complete pacifist, then you believe war is necessary in some cases.
      -We are fighting a war against an enemy that would seek to wipe the USA off the face of the planet, by all and any means necessary. (Experts estimate a Nuclear or Chemical attack on a US city by a terrorist in the next 15 yrs to be 30%-50% likely)
      -Pacifism is not an option.
      -Force must be used & this will undoubtedly cause collateral damage. We accept this.
      -Subjecting a murdering genocidal terrorist to pain to get information that could save lives, surely is less bad then 100 children being killing as collateral damage, in moral terms.

      Answer these tough questions and provide a proper counter argument rather then just attacking Harris. Otherwise its just coming across like a creationist picking holes in evolution without, ever attempting to provided any substance themselves.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 9, 2012, 11:58 pm

        You have said that till Harris informed you modern warfare incinerates large numbers of civilians, you were ignorant. That was a brave admission on your part. This truth was plain to anyone with the most elemental grasp of history as my last article makes clear. I cited the work of historians who made precisely this point long before the advent of Harris. The historian was Howard Zinn.

        Unlike Harris, Zinn actually fought in a war, and unlike him, the lesson he took away from the anti-civilian nature of industrial war is that killing Afghans and Iraqis is a crime and that military violence can only be morally justified for the narrow purpose of countering imminent invasion and only then when there are no peaceful avenues.

        The choice is not between pacifism and aggressive wars. It’s between diplomacy and imperialism.

        The video that you have linked to is one that I have also done in my last article. It shows precisely the liabilities of Harris: He is capitally ignorant of history. He asserts that Americans did not know the firebombing of Dresden would kill civilians. The fact is the reverse: Historians agree the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo was undertaken precisely to kill civilians for the purpose of destroying the enemy’s morale.

        I observe that you have now abandoned your assertion that Harris has advocated the torture of white non-Muslim criminals as intellectually consistent thinkers like Singer have. We are making progress.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 10, 2012, 4:49 am

        We are not making any progress….

        I have not abandoned my assertion, about torture of white non-Muslims. I have not found the interview I was looking for yet (I thought it was on the link to the last video, but I was wrong), but If you want to claim the weakest of victories as I did not reply to that point, while simultaneously again avoiding all the questions I put to you, to me that speaks volumes. I STILL have no idea what your position is on the questions offered…. Its embarrassing but I just keep asking…

        I would be interested in your views on collateral damage & its implications on torture.

        Do you believe war in necessary?
        Do you believe collateral damage, is an acceptable part of war?
        Can you please explain to me why, in moral terms Harris is wrong when equating the two?

        And a second time:

        In moral terms I ask you… Why is collateral damage so acceptable for you?

        -Unless you are a complete pacifist, then you believe war is necessary in some cases.
        -We are fighting a war against an enemy that would seek to wipe the USA off the face of the planet, by all and any means necessary. (Experts estimate a Nuclear or Chemical attack on a US city by a terrorist in the next 15 yrs to be 30%-50% likely)
        -Pacifism is not an option.
        -Force must be used & this will undoubtedly cause collateral damage. We accept this.
        -Subjecting a murdering genocidal terrorist to pain to get information that could save lives, surely is less bad then 100 children being killing as collateral damage, in moral terms.

        I’m beginning to think that you can’t answer these questions without conceding that Harris is correct.

        As for the video:

        “He asserts that Americans did not know the firebombing of Dresden would kill civilians.”

        This is just utter utter nonsense. Your blind hatred for Harris is just overfilling if you make a claim like that. Watch it again. He makes no such assertion. He specifically makes a case with Dresden about the difference it is for a human to blindly kill from a far rather then up close. His example, if your Grandad was the bomber, dropping a payload from a plane and therefore not knowing the deaths he caused… Just pushing a button and flying home, compared to if your Grandfather killed 2 people up close with a shovel, is a very different situation, and kind of person that can do that. Harris goes on to say that Modern Warfare is giving us exactly this kind of ‘removed’ problem from the casualties, and that is why media intervention is important.

        To change that to “He asserts that Americans did not know the firebombing of Dresden would kill civilians.” is just jaw dropping.

      • Peter H
        September 11, 2012, 9:24 am

        MaketheMostofLife,

        Can you provide evidence for your repeated assertion that “Experts estimate a Nuclear or Chemical attack on a US city by a terrorist in the next 15 yrs to be 30%-50% likely)”? You can’t keep making a statement like that without providing at least some sources…..

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 11, 2012, 8:31 pm

        link to youtube.com

        Harris the Rogan discuss it in this video, & Harris gives the name of the source

    • aiman
      September 11, 2012, 10:15 am

      TS, I agree with you generally on other points, but the following merits a reply:

      ‘No free society should govern the sexual morality of consenting adult beings. If there is a “controversy”, it is between authoritarians and civil libertarians. That concludes the question of incest and bestiality.’

      Both incest and bestiality are taboos/perverse acts for a reason, it is not an argument for freedom. Both these practices tap into the negative facility of power, of oppression. Also incest was practiced in many societies that were not exactly “free” but within a system of dominance. To dial back the efforts of great reformers and ethical teachers merely illustrates that unmerited confidence the “modern man” claims over the past. In the case of animals, it will lead not just to outbreak of new forms of diseases but also put animal rights in a place as far back it has never been. Singer is dead wrong on both counts. And I seriously doubt any civil libertarians will come to his defense here, most people will find these positions absurd. As for authoritarians, they will defend anything that is already established. If incest and bestiality become the vogue, you can count on the authoritarians to take it up as “tradition” unless of course some brave man or woman comes later and challenges them on the threat of death and persecution.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 12, 2012, 10:58 am

        “Both these practices tap into the negative facility of power, of oppression.”

        The solution to your quandry is to premise societal acceptance, not on the act, but the consent of the participants. If one is capable of consent (which, by definition, precludes animals, children, severely mentally handicapped people, etc.), what business of it is yours to decide what they may do with their bodies?

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 12, 2012, 1:48 pm

        @ Aiman

        I respect your thoughtful musings. Your remarks, here and elsewhere, contain much that is sound, and much that agrees with my own feelings. I certainly do not think an idea is meritorious on account of being “modern”. A good chunk of modern life is foul. And we can both agree that few men alive can rival the wisdom of the celebrated dead.

        But in the realm of sexual mores, I’m a latitudinarian. To argue, as you have, that incest and zoophilia are distasteful, is correct. But to say that because something is unwholesome means that it should be outlawed is not a view that I share. Life contains much that is unpleasant. I do not like obesity, I do not like graffiti, I do not like genocidal Muslim-hating Zionists with torture on mind. But I would not dream of caging its enthusiasts.

        I understand that you have more substantive objections than mere dislike. Very briefly , I think any objection to bestiality grounded on the potential breakout of disease would have to apply equally to sexual promiscuity among humans, a far too great a concession of personal liberty, I think, than most will bear. On the matter of consent, it’s plain that verbal language is not demanded to signal voluntary interactions. The deaf manage quite well in conveying their wishes. And animals give and withdraw consent daily to each other and, in domestic settings, to their owners. Language is not a synonym for speech. Even among people with no hearing impairment, many (if not most) interactions are governed by non-verbal physical cues, eye contact, body gestures and the like.

        Granted, some may feel licensed to abuse their pets, but it’s not clear that the type of owner inclined to such abuse would be deterred by its legal status any more than rapists are presently deterred by the penal sanctions that attach to assaulting women especially given that our four legged friends cannot drop by a police station and file charges against their violator; nor is it clear why people who enjoy consensual relations ought to be jailed for the crimes of animal rapists.

        Few will deny the unwisdom of coupling with donkeys. What I doubt is that the answer to vulgarity, or even sometimes positively harmful conduct like belting one’s children, is the prison cage. In other words, my views here point to a larger critique of statism which is beyond the scope of this discussion.

  14. Theodore Sayeed
    September 10, 2012, 9:42 am

    @MakeLifeWorthLiving

    I have stated that Harris denies Americans knowingly slaughtered civilians in Dresden, and this is what he says:

    “We are just not wired to understand the consequences of our actions once we can fight war remotely. If we were just fighting with bayonets, there is the inescapability of the horror of war, but the moment you can fly Predator Drones from your office park in Las Vegas thirteen thousand miles away, I am not suggesting that those guys don’t have a problem sleeping at night some of them, but it’s a very different kind of violence. One of the scariest things about technology is that it uncouples us from the reality of our actions so the most harmful things is not the most disturbing things. So if you, this is actually an example I used in The End of Faith, if you hear that your grandfather fought in World War Two and he dropped bombs because he was a fighter pilot over Dresden, that is one level of abstraction of his actions that doesn’t disturb you about him or needn’t even disturbed him if he is strafing from thirty thousand feet dropping bombs not really getting what he was doing. ”

    These words could only be uttered by the mentally vacant. The Allies understood very clearly what they were doing in firebombing Dresden and Tokyo: Killing over a hundred thousand civilians in locations with no military objectives. The notion that “We are not wired to understand the consequences of our actions once we can fight war remotely” is crude propaganda.

    And so is the claim that US fighter pilots were not disturbed. One such pilot who was outraged was the historian Howard Zinn who spoke up against the war crimes committed by America against Japanese and German civilians. You confessed that you are ignorant of the nature of war. You are not alone. So is Harris.

    Harris proving his ignorance of American war crimes in Dresden:

    link to youtube.com

    Howard Zinn on the bomber missions he flew in the war:

    • MakeTheMostOfLife
      September 10, 2012, 10:19 pm

      The conclusion you draw from the text you quoted is as ‘mentally vacant’ as anything i can imagine.

      I can only applaud Sam Harris, for not wasting his time to reply to your articles.

      You have refused to answer the questions I have put to you, and therefore there is no substance from you to make any attempt at a counter argument.

      • Theodore Sayeed
        September 11, 2012, 6:47 am

        The riches of your thoughts cannot be exceeded my anonymous reader. You admitted that Harris denies Americans knowingly killed civilians in Dresden only two comments ago when you said:

        “His example, if your Grandad was the bomber, dropping a payload from a plane and therefore not knowing the deaths he caused.”

        When you realised this serves only to prove that Harris lacks the most elementary grasp of history, you described your own conclusion as “mentally vacant”. Your comment is not mentally vacant for the simple reason that comments do not have a mental existence. But I must say, it is a rather amusing performance. Akin to the fabricated interview you concocted in which Harris allegedly called for torturing white people that does not exist.

        I have answered your question about when military violence is justified: To counter imminent invasion where there are no peaceful avenues.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 11, 2012, 7:33 am

        Your ability to twist words to your desired meaning holds no bounds.

        “Harris denies Americans knowingly killed civilians in Dresden”

        “To learn that one’s grandfather flew a bombing mission over Dresden in the Second World War is one thing; to hear that he killed five little girls and their mother with a shovel is another. We can be sure that he would have killed more women and girls by dropping bombs from pristine heights, and they are likely to have died equally horrible deaths, but his culpability would not appear the same.” – End Of Faith

        “His example, if your Grandad was the bomber, dropping a payload from a plane and therefore not knowing the deaths he caused.”

        That somehow equals “Harris denies Americans knowingly killed civilians in Dresden”

        The statement I made in no way supports what you infer, or is in any way not accurate. I have simply stated that a bomber dropping a payload will not know what number of deaths he caused, not that they didn’t think that they were killing people.

        In that exact interview Harris states that the bomber will have undoubtedly killed MORE people then a person killing two people with a shovel, but that it takes a different kind of person to push a button, then to psychically beat someone to death, and brings the point around to the horror of collateral damage.

        Your readers will be the harsh judge of your ludicrous conclusions.

        Are we making progress???

        Do you believe war in necessary?

        “YES”

        Ok, then the rest you have avoided all this time…..

        -Force must be used & this will undoubtedly cause collateral damage, correct?

        -Do you believe collateral damage, is an unavoidable part of war? i.e in your answer to YES above, are you ceding that collateral damage would be an ‘acceptable loss’ in the event of war?

        -Is subjecting a murdering genocidal terrorist to pain to get information that could save lives, worse then 100 children being killing as collateral damage, in moral terms?

        -Can you please explain to me why, in moral terms Harris is wrong when equating this to torture?

      • eljay
        September 11, 2012, 7:58 am

        Excellent posts, Theodore Sayeed. :-)

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 11, 2012, 9:42 am

        “Excellent posts, Theodore Sayeed. :-)”

        Are you kidding? The only thing Sayeed has demonstrated with this posting and his discussion in comments is that he has poor reading comprehension skills.

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2012, 12:08 pm

        Somehow, I don’t think tapping out a series of tendentious, ill-informed, and very banal comments is making the most of life, but that’s just me.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 11, 2012, 5:06 pm

        You – “He does not, like Singer, press for the torture of white non-Muslim criminals”

        Me – “Actually he does exactly this in subsequent interviews, clarifying he view on torture, using the example of a kidnapped daughter, and raising the stakes based on that scenario.”

        You – “Akin to the fabricated interview you concocted in which Harris allegedly called for torturing white people that does not exist.”

        Harris – “While the most realistic version of the ticking bomb case may not persuade everyone that torture is ethically acceptable, adding further embellishments seems to awaken the Grand Inquisitor in most of us. If a conventional explosion doesn’t move you, consider a nuclear bomb hidden in midtown Manhattan. If bombs seem too impersonal an evil, picture your seven-year-old daughter being slowly asphyxiated in a warehouse just five minutes away, while the man in your custody holds the keys to her release. If your daughter won’t tip the scales, then add the daughters of every couple for a thousand miles–millions of little girls have, by some perverse negligence on the part of our government, come under the control of an evil genius who now sits before you in shackles. Clearly, the consequences of one person’s uncooperativeness can be made so grave, and his malevolence and culpability so transparent, as to stir even a self-hating moral relativist from his dogmatic slumbers.” – link to huffingtonpost.com

        Your post calling me a deliberate liar, says a lot about you.

        I dread posting replies to all these fires you keep starting that seem to divert you from answering the repeated questions that I put to you.

      • dereksmear
        September 12, 2012, 5:33 pm

        My friend, you are hilarious. You display the kind of devotion to his/her hero that any religious person would to their prophet. The quote you have lifted presents no evidence that Harris supports the torture of white people.

      • MakeTheMostOfLife
        September 12, 2012, 7:05 pm

        @dereksmear

        I’m glad your amused (old friend.)

        Unfortunately, I don’t find you hilarious. Sorry :(

        Clearly there is no Muslim inference, in the quote, which is exactly the point.

        How about you provide evidence, that the quote only supports the torture of non white people.

        I could make the same meaningless comment about your devotion defending your prophet Theodore Sayeed… But that would be an ad hominem, rude, untrue and pointless attack. So I won’t.

        It is tiring to hear people attack Harris tackling really tough issues. Disagree fine, but if you want to contradict his view point, then provide a realistic counter argument, that is better, rather then making a career just picking holes, while providing no substance whatsoever.

        Thanks

  15. dereksmear
    September 13, 2012, 5:34 am

    Well, my dear, I have devoted three posts to the thread in defence of my prophet. So I guess I’m a pretty lousy fan.

    Now, if you had bothered to include the rest of the article in your case, it would have later read “I will now present an argument for the use of torture in rare circumstances”. So clearly this scenario which he raises at the start of the piece is not part of his argument for torture. Even if you believe that the quote defends your claim that Harris believes in torturing non-Muslims, it is not part of his argument.

    • MakeTheMostOfLife
      September 13, 2012, 6:38 am

      If you want to call him your prophet, and yourself a lousy fan, that’s up you. I said it would be meaningless, rude and untrue for me to call you that.

      Sorry I see no evidence anywhere that suggests Harris is advocating the torture of Muslims only. His point is in great detail, a comparison between collateral damage & torture and the moral equivalent between the two. The race or religion is irrelevant to the argument, as shown in his example.

      • dereksmear
        September 15, 2012, 9:04 am

        No, you are confused. Harris has advocated the use of torture in the War on Terror

        “I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror” (In Defence of Torture)

        However, to Harris this is not really a war on terror, but a war on Islam.

        “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” (Harris, Bombing Our Illusions, 2005)

        link to huffingtonpost.com

        Harris is only interested in ‘counter terrorism’ measures against Muslims. In fact, in the aftermath of the Norway shootings by Breivik, Harris seemed annoyed at the possibility that focus on security threats may divert away from Muslims:

        “we are bound to hear a lot of deluded talk about the dangers of Islamophobia and about the need to address the threat of “terrorism” in purely generic terms,” (Christian Terrorism and Islamophobia).

      • seanmcbride
        September 15, 2012, 11:31 am

        Would it be fair to describe Harris as a neoconservative, even perhaps a Jewish neoconservative? He fits the profile. How do his views, fundamentally, differ from those of Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen or Douglas Feith?

      • dereksmear
        September 15, 2012, 1:38 pm

        In terms of Harris’ views on Muslims, I would say he is more right wing than many of the neocons.

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